New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gives a news conference
in Trenton. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has fired a top aide
at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials
orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George
Washington Bridge to settle a political score.
Christie told a news conference he was stunned and
heartbroken by revelations that his staff was behind the
traffic jam designed to punish a local mayor who declined to
endorse Christie's re-election bid. The office of the US
attorney in New Jersey said it had launched an investigation.
The scandal and potential legal problems come as Christie has
emerged as one of the most powerful figures in the Republican
Party as head of its governors association and a possible
contender for the White House in 2016.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of
the people on my team," Christie said. "I am who I am, but I
am not a bully."
Christie said he has dismissed his deputy chief of staff,
Bridget Anne Kelly.
US Attorney Paul Fishman - whose job Christie held before he
was elected governor - has opened a probe into the lane
closures, his spokeswoman said.
"The Port Authority Office of Inspector General has referred
the matter to us, and our office is reviewing it to determine
whether a federal law was implicated," Rebekah Carmichael
said in a statement.
The controversy erupted with the public release of
incriminating emails showing that a top aide to Christie
played a key role in closing some lanes to the bridge, in a
ploy to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The George Washington Bridge, one of the busiest spans in the
world, connects New York City to Fort Lee. The abrupt
four-day lane closures in September caused hours-long traffic
jams and held up the passage of school buses and ambulances.
A local newspaper reported that emergency responders were
delayed in attending to four medical situations. One involved
an unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died of cardiac
arrest and another, a car accident, in which four people were
Christie has enjoyed immense popularity at home since his
election in 2009, particularly for his handling of recovery
and rebuilding efforts after Superstorm Sandy devastated his
state in late 2012. He was re-elected in a landslide in
He has also touted his ability to work with political
opponents as a mark of his skill at overcoming partisan
divisions and forging alliances to get things done.
But the blunt-talking governor is known as well for engaging
in shouting matches, hurling insults and belittling
Now, the incident threatens to tarnish Christie's image and
national standing as he weighs a 2016 bid for the White
House. He told the news conference he was "nowhere near"
beginning to consider a possible 2016 presidential bid.
"The problem for Christie is that this feeds into the
pre-existing narrative that Christie is a bully, that
Christie is a thug," said Doug Muzzio, a professor of public
affairs at Baruch College in New York. "If I'm running in a
primary in 2016, I'm going to be saying, 'Do you want
Others took a more charitable view.
"My prediction? The whole thing will blow over," Republican
consultant Mike Murphy wrote in the Daily News. "The question
is how Christie's hands-on, full-volume personality will wear
with voters over time."
At his news conference, Christie said he had been misled by
his staff and knew nothing of the lane closings before they
occurred and that he had been led to believe the closures
were part of a traffic study.
He also said he was "blindsided" and heartbroken by the
emails, and that he was doing some "soul searching."
"What did I do wrong to make these folks think it was okay to
lie?" Christie said. "What I want the people of New Jersey to
know is that this is the exception, not the rule."
In the most damning email, Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly,
wrote to a Port Authority executive in August, saying: "Time
for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The executive, David Wildstein, replied: "Got it."