By Daniel Kelley
TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - A former staffer of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Tuesday she did not believe that her ex-boss, a woman who has taken much of the blame for apparently politically motivated traffic jams last year, was the main architect of the George Washington Bridge lane closings.
The former staffer, Christina Genovese Renna, also said she was not involved in the closings, which have become known as the "Bridgegate" scandal and have taken a toll on the public image of Christie, a prominent Republican widely viewed as a 2016 White House contender.
Renna told a state legislative panel that she did not believe her former boss Bridget Anne Kelly, who was Christie's deputy chief of staff before he fired her, dreamed up the idea of causing massive traffic jams around Fort Lee, New Jersey near the bridge.
"I wouldn't say she was the architect, but I'd say she was instrumental," Renna said. She declined to speculate on who may have ordered the lane closures, apparent political retribution to the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who declined to back Christie's re-election bid.
The shutdown over four days last September caused massive gridlock near the bridge linking New Jersey to New York City.
Christie has denied any knowledge of the scheme and fired Kelly after the release of an e-mail in which she told David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Separately on Tuesday, Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the establishment of a bi-state panel to examine the future of the Port Authority, which oversees the metropolitan area's bridges, tunnels and airports.
The Port Authority has been criticized for political meddling and poor governance and the panel will review issues involved in reforms, including its complicated financial structure.
At the lawmakers' hearing, Renna, who resigned this year as Christie's director of intergovernmental affairs, testified under oath that she had "no knowledge of or involvement in the bridge lane closures."
She also told the bipartisan panel she had been told by her superiors to keep track of which elected officials endorsed Christie and to avoid communicating with certain mayors.
Renna said her former superior Kelly had an "issue" with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich but could not explain what it was.
Wildstein, who resigned last year, has been accused of orchestrating the scheme and is seeking immunity in the probe.
(Additional reporting by Hilary Russ; Writing by Victoria Cavaliere and Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Tom Brown and Grant McCool)