Facing one of the toughest tests of his political career, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered a broad apology Thursday to the people of his state and the city of Fort Lee for traffic jams that apparently had been orchestrated by members of his political team. He also announced the dismissal of two senior members of his team.
“I am not a focus-group tested, blow-dried candidate or governor,” Christie said, acknowledging the brash and outspoken style that has made him a media darling, but now imperils his political future, including a potential run for the White House in 2016. “I am who I am, but I am not a bully.”
Emails released Wednesday suggested that Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly helped orchestrate closing lanes of the George Washington Bridge to punish the Mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse Christie for re-election. Christie said he was lied to by the aide when asked if anyone in his office had anything to do with the shutdown.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team," he said somberly in a press conference in Trenton. "The conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable." Christie said he fired Kelly, effective Thursday morning. "I also have to apologize for my failure as the governor of this state for failing to understand the true nature of this problem."
Christie also cut ties with former campaign manager Bill Stepien, also quoted in the messages released Wednesday. The governor said Stepien would no longer be considered for the post of chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party and would not be a consultant to the Republican Governors Association, which is headed by Christie.
At a press conference last month, Christie laughed off allegations that he or his staff was responsible for the shutdown. Christie explained that before that event, he informed members of his staff that he was going to dismiss the accusations and urged them to speak up if there was any reason he shouldn't say that. None came forward, he said.
"What did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me," Christie said. "I'm doing a lot of soul-searching. I'm sick over this."
Christie reaffirmed that he had no personal knowledge of the scheme until he was "blindsided" by the release of the emails Wednesday. He said he is conducting an internal investigation into what his staff did and didn't know, and that his office will cooperate with both legislative and criminal investigations. He promised to publicly disclose any further senior staff involvement that he uncovers.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution," Christie asserted. "I was told that it was a traffic study."
"I am heartbroken," Christie continued. "I would never have come out here four or five weeks ago and made a joke about these lane closures."
"I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short," Christie said.