"She follows the chain of command. She's not a cowboy."

But friends, Trenton operatives and people who have recently been in touch with Ms. Kelly said that the portrait of her that had emerged — as a vengeful rogue operative — did not square with the woman they knew. And while they were careful not to discuss with her what happened, let alone ask why, they said that her actions were highly uncharacteristic for someone who had always been a loyal soldier, but never a rule-breaker.

“The person I worked with through the years is not the person you see in the press these days,” said Jeff Tittel, a longtime environmental advocate.

At first glance, nothing about Ms. Kelly’s life — not her strict Catholic upbringing; her close-knit extended family; her decision to send her children to the same Catholic schools she attended in her hometown, Ramsey; or her fierce loyalty to her political mentors — would suggest anything but a dutiful, behind-the-scenes role player.

“She follows the chain of command,” said a friend who, like nearly everyone contacted for this story, insisted on anonymity to avoid being caught up in the continuing investigations. “She’s not a cowboy.”