By David Cruz
Under scrutiny for perceived partisanship and now for running up a legal tab of three quarters of a million dollars, the legislature’s joint special committee on investigation heard actual testimony from its first witness. Christina Renna, who was director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA), reported to Bridget Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staff. But before the testimony began, Republicans moved to derail the proceedings, first asking for the committee to subpoena a list of Port Authority staffers who were on duty during the first day of the lane closures, and then moving to plug the leaks on the committee.
“I’d like to make a motion that we collectively petition the attorney general and ask him to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate this charge has been leveled by this committee by three New Jersey lawyers,” said Sen. Kevin O’Toole.
Neither motion was approved and Chairwoman Loretta Weinberg admonished her colleagues to stick to the matter at hand. She started the questioning by grilling Renna about the role of the IGA and whether staff there conducted political business while on the state’s clock.
“So that leads me to believe, particularly if there was a mandatory directive that changed daily, that there was some way of informing IGA staff during working hours who was a “hands off mayor” and that there was mandatory directive to that effect,” Weinberg said.
“First you’re convoluting in your question, respectfully, list of mayors, just the 565 municipalities, which day to day was IGA’s job to contact them during the work day versus particular endorsers. That work happened after five,” said Renna.
But it was Renna’s boss Bridget Kelly, the author of the now infamous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email, who had the roughest time today with Renna reinforcing the image of Kelly that emerged from the governor’s own internal report released last March.
“Do you believe that Bridget Kelly broke from what was her persona, her responsibility and for what ever reason in the exchange of emails around them to you, broke from her normal course of action and that Bridget Kelly orchestrated and was the architect of the theory around a study and to take it from three lanes to one. Do you believe that?” said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald.
“I wouldn’t say she was the architect, but she was instrumental in the process. I believe that yes,” Renna said.
Renna said she and Kelly had been close friends but as the scandal heated up, they became estranged, most notably after a December 2013 phone call in which Kelly asked Renna to delete a damaging email.
“What was the demeanor on the first part of the call and what was the demeanor on the second part of the call” asked Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
“I would characterized the demeanor on the first part of the call as being business like, for lack of better term. Normal conversing, asking questions about work and whatever it may be. The second version of the call was, she enormously nervous, enormously sort of erratic. She wasn’t making a lot of sense. She talked in circles. She repeated herself a lot. She sounded nervous. I was having a hard time following her,” said Renna.
After nearly five hours of testimony, the committee failed to produce any real new information today. And judging by the reaction of Republican members, convincing the public of the true bi-partisan nature of this endeavor is going to become increasingly difficult.