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Chris Christie Aide Accuses Governor Of Lying About 'Bridgegate'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Bridgegate scandal is back in the news because of text messages that came out in a court filing last night, and things don't look good for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. One of the messages says that Christie quote, "flat out lied" about traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge a few years ago. From member station WNYC, Andrea Bernstein reports.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: The new texts are the strongest suggestion to date that there was high-level and pervasive knowledge of the lane closures among Chris Christie's staff. To understand the significance, you have to go back to December 2013, just two months after the abrupt and unexplained closure of three lanes on the world's busiest bridge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Governor, can you say with certainty that...

BERNSTEIN: Christie had never really taken questions on the scandal until that Friday in December. He was asked if anyone on his staff had intentionally created a massive traffic jam in Fort Lee to retaliate against a mayor who hadn't endorsed Christie for re-election.

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CHRIS CHRISTIE: And I've made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had any knowledge about this, that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it. And they've all assured me that they don't.

BERNSTEIN: Minutes later a top government staffer named Christina Renna texted a counterpart at Christie's campaign. It said, are you listening? He just flat-out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved. Bill Stepien was, at the time, Christie's campaign manager and preparing to run his presidential campaign. Here's Christie again from that press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTIE: Oh, yeah, I've spoken to Mr. Stepien, who is the person in charge of the campaign, and he has assured me the same thing.

BERNSTEIN: But Renna, who ran the part of the governor's office maintaining relationships with Democrats whose support the governor wanted, was insistent. He lied. If emails are found, she wrote, that could be bad. She then deleted the whole exchange. Renna is staying mum today, but in a 2014 hearing, she brushed off questions about the lane closures.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Were you aware that there was this inquiry within the governor's office if anybody had any knowledge?

CHRISTINA RENNA: I wasn't aware of that that I can recall, no.

BERNSTEIN: The new information is coming to light because two former Christie appointees are going to trial next month in federal court in Newark for their role in creating the traffic jams. A year ago, in her only remarks on the matter, one of the defendants, Bridget Kelly, dropped a big hint about her trial strategy.

BRIDGET KELLY: To suggest that I was the only person in the governor's office who was aware of the George Washington Bridge issue is ludicrous.

BERNSTEIN: Prosecutors have declined to charge Christie, but the scandal cast a dark cloud on his unsuccessful presidential bid. Today after hosting a sports radio show, Christie told reporters they were stupid for asking about the texts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTIE: It's ridiculous. It's nothing new.

BERNSTEIN: The trial starts next month, and it's likely to kick up even more questions about Christie's role just as his work as transition chair and key Donald Trump surrogate kick into very high gear. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Bernstein. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.