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Ex-Chris Christie aide invokes Fifth Amendment

Won’t turn over documents that panel requested

Lanes on the George Washington Bridge were shut down in September, causing days of gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J.

John Moore/Getty Images

Lanes on the George Washington Bridge were shut down in September, causing days of gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J.

NEW YORK — A former top aide to Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey revealed Monday that she would not hand over documents in response to a subpoena from a legislative panel investigating the controversial closing of lanes at the George Washington Bridge last fall, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The former aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, informed the panel, through a letter from her lawyer, Michael Critchley, that in addition to the Fifth, she was also invoking the Fourth Amendment in defense of her privacy.

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The letter said that the panel’s request “directly overlaps with a parallel federal grand jury investigation.” It also contended that giving the committee “unfettered access” to her diaries, calendars, and electronic devices could “potentially reveal highly personal confidential communications” unrelated to the bridge scandal.

The decision by Kelly, who had been a deputy chief of staff and a key cog in Christie’s political operation, unfolded as Christie was fielding questions during his regular radio program, “Ask the Governor.”

Asked about Kelly’s decision on the air, Christie seemed nonplused, saying that “it doesn’t tell me anything” and that he respected her constitutional rights.

New Jersey Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski and state Senator Loretta Weinberg, the Democratic leaders of the panel, issued a statement saying they had received the letter and that they “are reviewing it and considering our legal options with respect to enforcing the subpoena.”

Kelly looms as a pivotal figure in the scandal. She is the official who wrote an e-mail in August saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to another Christie ally, David Wildstein at the Port Authority. Wildstein responded, “Got it,” and together, they were intimately involved in the lane closings, which occurred over four days in September.

Christie — who repeated on Monday night his insistence that he did not know about the scheme beforehand — later fired Kelly, and also cut ties with her boss, Bill Stepien, who had been Christie’s campaign manager in 2009 and 2013.

Still, both Stepien and Kelly have now invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, and Wildstein cited it during a legislative hearing. With some 18 other subpoenas issued by the state Legislature — which is controlled by Democrats — also outstanding, it is possible that others may also follow suit.

Separately, federal prosecutors are also looking into the bridge scandal, as well as allegations of undue influence in a Hoboken, N.J., development proposal. Christie said Monday on the radio program that his office would cooperate with a subpoena issued by the US attorney’s office in Newark — the office he headed before becoming governor in 2010 — “on a rolling basis.”

Kelly’s announcement came several days after one of her subordinates, Christina Genovese Renna, the director of the state’s Intergovernmental Affairs, submitted her resignation. Renna, 32, resigned on Friday, the same day Wildstein’s lawyer said in a letter that “evidence exists” contradicting the governor’s account about when he learned of the lane closings.

In response to questions about the timing of her departure, Renna said in a statement released on Sunday that she had been considering leaving since shortly after the election.

Her lawyer, Henry E. Klingeman, suggested in an email on Monday that as the investigation by the committee, and a preliminary inquiry by federal prosecutors, moves forward, a decision by his client to leave would be more fraught.

Renna received a subpoena because on Sept. 12, the fourth and last day of the lane closings, she sent an e-mail from her personal email account to Kelly’s. Renna wrote that Evan Ridley, a staff member in Intergovernmental Affairs, which was responsible for maintaining a relationship with Fort Lee officials, had received a call from that borough’s mayor, Mark Sokolich.

Sokolich, the email said, was “extremely upset” about the closings, which were causing such severe backup in Fort Lee that “first responders are having a terrible time maneuvering the traffic.”

“Evan told the fine mayor he was unaware that the toll lanes were closed, but he would see what he could find out,” Renna wrote. Kelly forwarded Renna’s email to Wildstein, who asked Kelly to call him.

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