Christie Apologizes for Bridgegate, Fires Key Aide: ‘She Lied’ [VIDEO]
Gov. Chris Christie, saying he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by the first major political scandal of his career, apologized to the public Thursday and fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, "because she lied" about the September closings of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
Emails from Kelly, leaked Wednesday, showed she participated in the closings, as political retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee.
"I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here," Christie said, saying he had no personal knowledge of his aide's actions until early Wednesday morning, when he read the first accounts of Kelly's emails on the web pages of The Record, which broke the story. "I was blindsided yesterday morning," Christie said.
The governor said his earlier responses to the affair, which included joking about personally placing traffic cones at the bridge, would never have been made if he hadn't been assured by Kelly and other members of his staff that his office had had no involvement in the closings.
"What I was told is that it (the lane closing) was a traffic study," the governor said.
Nonetheless, Christie said, "I am responsible for what happened. I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short. . . of the expectations that we’ve created over the last four years for the type of excellence in government that they should expect from this office."
The governor also said he was going to Fort Lee to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich and "the people of Fort Lee" in person. Sokolich said he accepted Christie's apology but thought a visit should wait while investigations unfold, a suggestion the governor ignored.
The emails and texts from Kelly and others show that Sokolich was targeted for the lane closings and the resulting traffic jams in Fort Lee, apparently because he refused to join other Democratic mayors in endorsing the governor for re-election.
The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, announced an inquiry into the lane closings Thursday. The Assembly Transportation Committee expected to hear from another key figure in the controversy, David Wildstein. Wildstein was the Port Authority official who directly ordered the lane closings and was forced to resign as a consequence in December.
After Wildstein's bid to quash a subpoena from the committee was rejected by a state judge Thursday, he appeared at the hearing with his lawyer and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, declining to answer any questions.
Hear David Matthau's report from the State House:
Christie's news conference, held in the Governor's Outer Office at the State House in Trenton, was packed with New Jersey media, as well as national media drawn by his status as a frontrunner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
They saw and heard an uncharacteristically contrite Chris Christie, who told them he was "heartbroken" by the behavior of Kelly and his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien. Stepien, who was about to become chairman of the Republican State Committee, is also implicated by the "Bridgegate" emails.
Christie said he phoned Stepien Wednesday night, instructing him to withdraw his candidacy for the party chairmanship and end his work as a consultant to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie now heads. The governor said he was "disturbed" by Stepien text messages expressing "callous indifference" to those affected by the lane closings.
Defending his reputation for "honesty and directness and blunt talk," Christie initially deflected questions about whether the incident reinforced an image of him as a "bully." But he also seemed to address the issue more reflectively then in the past.
"It makes me ask about me, what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me?" Christie said. "I've been doing a lot of soul-searching. I'm sick over this."
The governor also apologized repeatedly during the press conference, hitting a note critics said was missing from the initial statement his office released Wednesday, after stories about the emails first broke.
Here is the full text of that Wednesday statement:
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”
Here is video of the governor's Thursday press conference: