TIME 2016 Election

Christie Cuts Pension Payments as Fiscal Record Shows Cracks

NJ Gov. Chris Christie
NJ Gov. Chris Christie Ethan Miller—Getty Images

The New Jersey governor was forced to cut pension payments to make up for lower-than-expected tax revenues, another dent in his brand as a no-nonsense reformer

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie moved Tuesday to cut more than $2 billion in state pension payments, which would cover a budgetary shortfall but is also sure to spark a political backlash.

The likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate cited the state constitution’s requirement to have a balanced budget for his decision to cut pension payments for inactive state employees. It would help close an estimated $807 million deficit in the current fiscal year, brought on by revenues that fell short of expectations. Christie said Tuesday he was caught off guard by how quickly he was again forced to confront the state’s burgeoning liabilities, blaming the state’s budget gap on overly-optimistic revenue projections by his budget economists and changes in federal tax law. He also criticized his Democratic and Republican predecessors for failing to make necessary pension payments. “We will not make the payments that apply to the sins of the past,” Christie said at a news conference.

The state will still make more than $1.3 billion in pension payments for those active in the system over the next 14 months, Christie said. He said he would present the legislature with a plan to reform pensions and benefits in the next month, and called on lawmakers to work with him to make additional changes. Christie’s decision exacerbates the burden on a stressed system, with the state putting its total unfunded pension liability at $52 billion, and calls into question one of his crowning achievements: a bipartisan 2011 pension and health care overhaul that helped propel him onto the national stage. The move comes after Christie changed the state’s pension formula earlier this year to save $900 million through the end of his term.

And it risked undercutting his political brand as a no-nonsense problem solver, a brand already hurt by the traffic scandal that put his White House hopes in peril.

“Maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune in their TVs right now to see how it’s done,” Christie said last year when he handily won reelection by touting his record on reforming pensions and benefits. But Christie conceded Tuesday that the effort hasn’t made “much of a dent.”

“We’re still digging out of problems two decades in the making,” he said.

Under the 2011 agreement, Christie raised the retirement age for state employees and increased the rate at which they have to contribute to their pension and healthcare, while devoting additional resources to paying down the state’s unfunded liabilities. Indeed it was in defending the agreement that Christie first became a household name, as he bluntly debated critics in town hall meetings that quickly became YouTube fodder.

The announcement Tuesday reflected a scaling back of those plans. It came on the heels of another round of credit downgrades for New Jersey, with Moody’s Investors Service lowering the state’s rating from last week, following similar actions by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. Those downgrades put New Jersey’s debt in the same troubled category as California and Illinois.

“The downgrade… reflects the weakened financial position resulting from recurring revenue shortfalls and ongoing reliance on non-recurring resources that have deferred structural imbalances into future years,” Moody’s analysts wrote. “Additionally, high and rapidly-growing fixed costs have pressured the budget and limited the state’s flexibility to make structural changes that would improve long-term budget balance. As a result, the state’s liquidity position has weakened to levels that provide minimal cushion against budget surprises.”

Democrats seized on the change to cast Christie’s fiscal stewardship into doubt.

“One would expect someone who has dug such a deep hole for himself to stop digging,” John Currie, who chairs the state’s Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Chris Christie has not learned that lesson.”

The fiscal drama comes as Christie is fighting to restore his national image following the allegedly politically motivated closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge by aides. The governor is also heavily traveling the country on behalf of other Republican governors and to boost his own political ambitions, most recently delivering a speech outlining some of his foreign policy principles on Sunday night. Christie used the 2011 agreement to burnish his credentials as a deal-maker capable of working across party lines, but a similar outcome on another agreement is far from guaranteed this time around. Meanwhile, Christie will have a hard time campaigning on a pension deal he was forced to scale back.

TIME 2016 Election

Americans Don’t Want D.C. Experience in 2016 Candidate, Poll Says

Candidates for the presidency can now count experience in the capital as a liability, a reversal from 2007

More Americans view extensive Washington experience as a negative trait in a presidential candidate than a positive one, according to a new poll, a marked turnaround from years past.

The Pew survey out Monday found that 30% of Americans would be less likely to support a candidate with extensive experience in the capital, compared to just 19% who said they’d be more likely to support such a candidate. The results mark a reversal from when Pew asked the same question in 2007, when just 15% said they’d be less likely to support a Washington insider and 35% said they’d be more likely to. In both years, a roughly equal amount said it wouldn’t make a difference.

The poll results could have particular significance for the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, since Republicans (and independents) are particularly unimpressed by Washington experience, with 36% saying they’re less likely to support a D.C. insider and just 15% more likely.

Partisan gridlock in Washington and continued brinksmanship like last year’s government shutdown are partly to blame for the decline in popularity of D.C. pols. A similar measure going back decades reveals a sharp decline, beginning in the Obama era, in how many people view Washington experience positively. In 1987, 66% told Pew that service in Congress was better preparation for the presidency than being governor of a state. That number fell to 55% by 2007, then plummeted to 44% in 2014. An equal number this year say being a governor is better preparation. The results bode well for potential candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

TIME 2016 Election

Chris Christie: U.S. Has Lost Its Moral Leadership Under Obama

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told a group of philanthropists that the President has allowed dysfunction in Washington to harm American interests overseas, stating he never followed through with his threat of punishing Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Sunday that the U.S. is no longer a model for the world, lamenting a lack of American moral leadership on the global stage in a speech before a group of Jewish philanthropists.

Delivering an indictment of President Barack Obama’s foreign and domestic policy in a speech in New York City, the Republican 2016 hopeful said dysfunction in the nation’s capitol is harming American interests overseas. “There was a time in this world that America’s government was something to emulate,” he said. “No one can realistically believe today, when we have Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., that not only don’t govern but barely speak to each other, that we’re any longer a model for the world.”

Speaking at the Champions of Jewish Values Gala in New York at an event hosted by This World: The Values Network, an organization headed by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Christie said America’s credibility is being undermined by the Administration sending inconsistent signals about “who our friends are … and who our enemies are.” He added the U.S. must “be the strongest moral power for what is good and what is right in the world.”

Christie criticized Obama for failing to follow through on his threat to punish Syria for using chemical weapons on its citizens, acknowledging there may be a debate about drawing a “red line.” “Here’s something that should not be up for debate, that once you draw that red line, you enforce it, because if you don’t, America’s credibility will be at stake and will be at risk all over the world,” he said.

Hinting at his own political ambitions, Christie said the nation’s political leaders should “stop singing a happy tune” about the state of the country, both at home and overseas.

“Foreign policy and America’s role in the world is something that is often not popular to discuss in political campaigns,” he said. “But I suspect that every person who has had the opportunity to lead this country recognizes fairly early on that it is that role that will define the character and the strength of their leadership.”

“We need to stand once again loudly for these values,” he continued, making the case for an interventionist foreign policy even as the isolationist wing of the GOP has grown more vocal. “And sometimes that’s going to mean standing in some very messy difficult places, and standing strong and hard for those things that we believe in.”

“It is now our turn,” Christie said. “The torch is firmly in our hand.”

Also present at the event were Texas Governor Rick Perry and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who sat at the table with Christie. Christie was forced to apologize to Adelson in March after using the phrase “occupied territories” in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. Boteach defended his decision to honor Christie at the start of the program. Christie spoke vaguely about “friends at risk around the world” but did not mention Israel in his 18-minute address.

TIME

Christie to Biden: Welcome to Instagram, Here’s a Throwback Thursday

Biden joined Instagram on Wednesday with a bang, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie now appears to be showing him the ropes.

Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie welcomed Vice President Joe Biden to Instagram Thursday a day after Joe Biden made waves with his first selfie that also starred President Barack Obama.

“#tbts always trump #selfies,” Christie wrote in an Instragram post, a “Throwback Thursday” picture of himself and Biden from back in the day. The photo’s date was unclear, though the duo appear to be standing at their shared alma mater, the University of Delaware.

Biden and Christie are considered possible contenders in the race for president in 2016, but for today, at least, it’s all #smiles.

TIME 2016 Election

Republican Presidential Hopefuls See Possible Upside in 2014 Failure

NJ Gov Christie Holds News Conference At Statehouse
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is among a host of Republicans whose 2016 hopes could get a boost if their party falls short of taking back the Senate this year Jessica Kourkounis—Getty Images

While most Republicans see 2014 as a chance to win the Senate, some of the party's White House contenders-to-be are worried that a fully Republican-dominated Congress would dim their chances of winning the keys to the Oval Office in 2016

Republicans are increasingly looking at 2014 as a golden opportunity for the party to retake the Senate. Donors are pouring tens of millions of dollars into races across the country, the Republican National Committee is doubling down on investments in campaign technology, and outside groups are investing heavily in an all-out bid to regain the majority for the first time since 2007.

But there’s a dirty little secret: not every Republican is rooting for the party to succeed.

Behind closed doors and in private conversations with reporters and donors, Republicans eyeing the White House in 2016 are privately signaling they wouldn’t mind seeing the party fall short in this year’s midterm elections. For all the benefits of a strong showing in 2014 after resounding defeat in 2012, senior political advisers to some of the top Republican presidential aspirants believe winning the Senate might be the worst thing that could happen.

The opinion is most strongly held by Republican governors, who are hoping to rise above the Washington political fray. Already the central theme adopted by governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin is their ability to cut through partisan gridlock to lead their states. A dysfunctional Washington hamstrung by ideological division accentuates their core argument.

“They’re going to run against Washington,” says Ray Scheppach, the former longtime executive director of the National Governors Association. “Their argument is, ‘Nothing happens in Washington, people don’t do anything there. But I’ve created jobs, I’ve balanced budgets for X number of years, I’ve worked across the aisle bringing people together.’ They’re better off painting that picture with a divided Congress.”

But even for Senators like Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, winning the majority brings the expectation of performance in a climate where President Barack Obama’s veto pen will certainly get a workout, not to mention the fact that they lack the seniority to guide legislation through committees.

For candidates from either category, a GOP-controlled Senate and House would mean having to answer for their party’s legislative agenda in both a primary and a general election. Whether it be new fiscal deals struck with Obama or continued votes to repeal Obamacare, aides to potential candidates fear that congressional action may put a damper on their boss’s future campaigns by forcing them to either embrace or break with specific legislative proposals as opposed to general policy ideals.

“It’s a lot easier to explain your principles to the American people than it is to explain your position on a piece of legislation that will always have some flaws,” said one 2016 hopeful’s top political aide. “And let’s not forget that Congress’s approval rating is at 9%. I think all of those looking at 2016 would rather the two parties share the blame than Republicans alone.”

The White House aspirants are careful to avoid sharing their views publicly, wary of insulting a party energized by a tantalizingly close chance at the majority thanks to the still sluggish economy and the initially botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act. But by and large, their priorities are apparent in how and for whom they fundraise. Republican governors uniformly talk up their colleagues but avoid mention of the Senate. Senators eyeing the White House have focused on building their own war chests and political organizations.

Several Republican governors are up for re-election this year, and Christie and Jindal are the chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Republican Governors Association. But Christie drew the ire of many Republicans last year when he called a special election to fill the seat of Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died in office, just two weeks before his own re-election. The move kept popular Democrat and now Senator Cory Booker off the ballot when Christie was seeking to run up the score at the polls, but it also made it virtually impossible for his own party to contest the seat. Even more Republicans blame Cruz’s shutdown strategy with making their case more difficult this fall, even as it boosted his position among the Tea Party grassroots.

The GOP establishment, though, is worried about anyone in the party taking their eye off the ball. The 2016 map is as unfavorable to the GOP as it is favorable in 2014, with a presidential-year turnout raising the likelihood that even if Republicans manage to take the Senate this year, they will lose it two years later.

Former Mitt Romney adviser Kevin Madden said it would be misguided for potential candidates to ignore the opportunity in 2014 in order to boost their own fortunes, but he acknowledged there may well be some awkwardness.

“After the midterms, we could very well be at a point where the candidate that forces a moment of reckoning within our party eventually becomes its 2016 nominee,” Madden tells TIME. “That may require a showdown between the nominee and their party in the Senate, but it could eventually help both the party and the country.”

TIME Chris Christie

Watch Joy Behar Tell Chris Christie: ‘You’re Toast’

The New Jersey governor appeared to have a sense of humor failure as the former host of The View joked about his ongoing bridge scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared to lose his cool somewhat during a celebrity roast last week, as former The View host Joy Behar tossed zingers in his direction and not at the honoree.

The April 1 roast was for the 90th birthday celebration of former New Jersey governor, Brendan Byrne. Christie hosted the celebrity roast for Byrne, and he became the butt of many jokes about the George Washington Bridge scandal.

But Behar’s remarks seemed to hit home. In a video that surfaced Tuesday, Behar said that when she heard Christie had caused traffic jams, she thought: ‘What the hell is he doing, standing in the middle of the bridge?”

Christie eventually interrupted her, according to The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza, who attended the event. “This is a Byrne roast,” he said, before standing and attempting to steal her notes.

The exchange ended, Lizza reports, with a “rattled” Behar telling Christie: “I really don’t know about the Presidency. Let me put it to you this way, in a way that you’d appreciate: You’re toast.”

TIME 2016 Election

GOP Hawks Worry Rand Paul Has Too Much Ron

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaks to the crowd at the Tea Party Patriots 5th anniversary conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 2014.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaks to the crowd at the Tea Party Patriots 5th anniversary conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 2014. Mark Peterson—Redux

Republican donors wary of his more noninterventionist foreign policy views are promising a countercampaign to keep the Kentucky Senator and Tea Party star from securing the nomination if he rises too high for their tastes

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is hard at work laying the groundwork for an almost certain presidential campaign in 2016, but as he broadens his support among libertarian and younger voters, there’s a budding countercampaign to take him down if he becomes a threat to actually win the nomination.

At the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) meeting in Las Vegas this weekend, Paul was nowhere to be found, but his presence was felt in the form of a straw man — and frequent worry. Speaker after speaker, from former Florida governor Jeb Bush to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, laid into Paul’s more isolationist views on foreign policy. They never mentioned the lawmaker by name, but the message came across loud and clear.

The conference brings together some of the biggest names — and wallets — in Republican politics, most notably billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. At a private dinner for VIP donors in an Adelson-owned aircraft hangar holding one of his pair of Boeing 747s, Bush was asked about the growing isolationist wing of the Republican Party and replied there was no such thing — effectively casting Paul out of the fold, according to attendees.

John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., bemoaned “a rising tide of neoisolationism within the Republican Party,” and blasted those, like Paul, who oppose throwing the book at admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden, as “unfit to serve.”

“America must be engaged in the world, and we should help the people who share our values,” Ohio Governor John Kasich told guests at a Saturday lunch.

To the pro-Israel crowd, Paul is viewed by many as different from his father, former Representative Ron Paul, whose positions had kept him from getting an invite to the conservative confab in prior years. Nevertheless concerns remain about the younger Paul, who was invited this year but did not attend.

“His edges aren’t as sharp as his father’s,” says Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary. “But there’s still a naiveté that’s going to be a problem. He represents a departure from something a lot of Republicans are used to.”

Rand Paul has told top GOP donors that he is “evolving” on foreign policy, particularly when it comes to his positions on Israel, according to several people who have had conversations with him. In recent months he has toned down his opposition to foreign aid — a red flag for most at the RJC — replacing it with a call to end foreign aid to countries that are unfriendly to the U.S. He has also increased his outreach to prominent pro-Israel and neoconservative thinkers and donors to show he is interested in having a dialogue. The U.S. gives more than $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel every year, almost entirely in the form of grants for Israel’s military and defense services.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the RJC, says the group is trying to “help move him along” on his transformation.

“I think, unlike his father, he is genuinely interested in reaching out to the Jewish community,” Brooks says.

But several donors who have had private conversations with Paul about his foreign policy said those talks have not assuaged their concerns. And unlike his father, whose intensely supportive base was fairly contained, they worry that Paul’s smoother approach could make him a contender. “Can he win Iowa, yes. Can he win New Hampshire, yes. Can he win the nomination, maybe — and that’s scary,” says one former Mitt Romney bundler at the conference who did not want to be named.

On the margins of the conference, where attendees heard from four potential 2016 candidates who advocated for a strong American foreign policy and support for Israel, five donors huddled with a reporter pledged to reach into their deep pockets to ensure Paul doesn’t win the GOP nomination.

“The best thing that could happen is Ted Cruz and Rand Paul run and steal each other’s support,” says one of the donors, “but if not, we’ll be ready to take Paul down.”

Several prominent GOP donors at the conference suggested that Adelson, who spent more than $100 million backing Newt Gingrich and Romney in 2012, is likely to spend vast sums against Paul if he appears to be well positioned in the Republican primaries. Adelson’s spending is largely motivated by his strong concern for Israel, and Paul’s positions may well put a target on his back.

“Paul hasn’t — and probably will never — win the trust of the pro-Israel community,” says Noah Pollak, executive director of the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel, which ran ads against the elder Paul. “But his foreign policy problems run far deeper. His mustering of fake outrage over issues like Tomahawk-missile cuts and the persecution of Middle East Christians are a shiny-object strategy intended to contradict the correct impression that, at his core, he is more or less an isolationist.”

TIME 2016 Election

Republican Governors Vie for Adelson Support

Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition on March 29, 2014, in Las Vegas Julie Jacobson—AP

In a prelude to 2016, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and John Kasich addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition in Vegas as they vie for the support of billionaire Sheldon Adelson

Three Republican governors eyeing the White House delivered similar pitches but starkly different styles to megadonor Sheldon Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Nearly two years before GOP voters begin going to the polls, the race for Adelson’s support is well at hand, bringing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich to the billionaire’s Venetian Casino to address the group. Catering to the pro-Israel crowd at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s leadership conference, they brought heavy criticism of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy to the high-dollar donor conference. The politicians also highlighted their states’ economic revivals and their personal electoral successes as models for future Republican candidates.

“We cannot have a world where our friends are unsure of whether we will be with them and our enemies are unsure of whether we will be against them,” Christie said in criticism of Obama. “In New Jersey, nobody has to wonder whether I’m for them or against them.”

With the Iranian nuclear negotiations and Russian’s annexation of Crimea as a backdrop, the three would-be Commanders in Chief emphasized the need for a “strong America again,” as Walker put it. They were united in rejecting the isolationist wing of the GOP as embodied by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a frequent target of conference speakers.

“America must be engaged in the world, and we should help the people who share our values,” Kasich said.

Walker, who spoke first, opened his address with an appeal to the largely Jewish crowd. He said he lights a “menorah candle” every year with his Christmas tree and that his son Matthew’s name derives from the Hebrew for “gift from God.” He devoted much of his address to telling stories about his efforts in Wisconsin taking on public-sector unions, but also highlighted his broad fundraising base and outreach to minority voters. When he turned to foreign policy, Walker prefaced by saying he was speaking “not as a candidate” but “as a concerned citizen.”

Christie, who has seen his GOP establishment support waver in light of the ongoing scandal over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, found himself at home in front of the audience. He cracked jokes and repeatedly drew loud ovations with his now familiar message to the Republican Party to embrace pragmatism. “Here’s what we stand for in 2014: winning,” he said, recounting his own more successful electoral efforts to make inroads into minority communities.

Christie transfixed the donors with a long discussion of his visit to Israel two years ago, but caused a minor hubbub in the room when he referred to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the “occupied territories.” Many of the conservative donors were concerned that phrase was pejorative toward Israel, with some voicing those concerns directly to Christie. But Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he was convinced Christie had simply misspoken and was not outlining new policy.

Adelson was not in the room when Walker spoke, but all three governors are expected to meet privately with him this weekend. Their speeches followed former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s well-received remarks at a VIP dinner on Thursday at Adelson’s company’s private airplane hangar where he denounced “American passivity” under Obama. Adelson entered several minutes into Christie’s speech and took a reserved seat in the front row directly in front of Christie’s podium. Kasich, who spoke at a later luncheon, sat next to the casino magnate during the meal.

Kasich, who ran for President in 2000, repeatedly mentioned Adelson during his remarks, which were entirely focused on domestic policy, including an emphasis on “compassionate conservative” issues like drug addiction, charity and mental health. He opened with folky stories about his family and childhood, saying his parents could never imagine he’d be governor of Ohio. He also said creating jobs and opportunity is a “moral obligation.” Asked pointedly “What do you know about international affairs?” Kasich proceeded to give wide-ranging survey of American foreign policy challenges, noting he was a member of the House Armed Services Committee for 18 years.

For all the governors, Adelson’s support — and his seemingly unlimited bank account — could be make-or-break should they decide to run for the White House. Worth an estimated $38 billion, Adelson devoted at least $100 million backing Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in 2012.

“Hey, listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me,” Kasich said as he closed his speech, bringing his Adelson mentions into the double digits. “I don’t travel to these things much, but this was one that I thought was really, really important.”

TIME

Christie Appointee Resigns from Port Authority

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during a news conference in Trenton, New Jersey
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during a news conference in Trenton, New Jersey March 28, 2014. Mark Makela—Reuters

The N.J. governor held a press conference Friday to clear his name following the bridge scandal and announced the resignation of Port Authority Chairman David Samson. Christie said there is no indication his close ally was involved in wrongdoing

The chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey under scrutiny for conflicts of interest and embroiled in the lane closure scandal around New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie resigned Friday.

Christie, who appointed chairman David Samson in 2011, said the official had considered leaving last year and added that there was no indication that Samson was involved in wrongdoing, the AP reports. Samson, who has also come under scrutiny for his law firm’s ties to companies contracted by the Port Authority, released a statement after the announcement was made.

“Over the past months, I have shared with the Governor my desire to conclude my service to the PANYNJ,” said Samson, a former attorney general of New Jersey. “The timing is now right, and I am confident that the Governor will put new leadership in place to address the many challenges ahead.”

Christie announced the resignation of his close ally Friday at a news conference that the governor organized amid an effort to clear his name from involvement in the September incident. On Thursday, a much-criticized investigation by lawyers hired by the governor released its findings that Christie was not at fault in the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. The traffic jams were allegedly orchestrated by aides as political payback for the local town’s mayor not endorsing Christie’s reelection bid.

“The report will stand the test of time and it will be tested by the other investigations that are going on,” Christie said Friday. The report made no mention of the retiring chairman.

The report came under scrutiny in part because the lawyers’ ties to the Christie administration. Three people at the heart of the scandal also all declined to participate in the probe.

Christie said the lawyers would not “give away their reputations to do some kind of slipshod job for me.”

[AP]

TIME 2016 Election

Christie Calls Aides ‘Inexplicably Stupid’ in Bridge Scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fiercely criticizes his former aides who oversaw the traffic scandal that has hurt his White House hopes. "None of it made any sense to me. And to some extent [it] still does not,” he says in an interview

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday lambasted former aides who shut down lanes on a busy bridge in an apparent political payback scheme as “inexplicably stupid.”

“When things were first reported, I said: ‘This can’t possibly be true. Because who would do something like that?’” Christie said during an interview airing Thursday night on ABC. “Sometimes, people do inexplicably stupid things.

“And so that’s what makes it so hard then to, as the guy in charge, you… none of it made any sense to me,” Christie added. “And to some extent [it] still does not.”

Christie’s denunciation of his former aides are some of his strongest to date in the “Bridgegate” scandal that has threatened his 2016 presidential ambitions. Documents which emerged earlier this year showed that Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and his ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had plotted to close lanes leading from Fort Lee, N.J. to the George Washington Bridge in what appeared to be retribution against the town’s mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection campaign. Lawyers hired by Christie’s to investigate the matter cleared the Republican of any wrongdoing in a report released earlier Thursday, but the events are still being probed by state lawmakers and federal authorities.

Documents show the lane closures, which caused severe traffic jams in Fort Lee, were overseen by Port Authority official David Wildstein and Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. Wildstein resigned late last year as questions over the lane closures mounted. Christie fired Kelly and apologized for the scandal in January when the documents emerged.

Christie conceded Thursday that the scandal has taken its toll.

“You don’t sleep, you don’t eat … you struggle. You struggle,” he said. “But I do believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s been a very, very tough time professionally. Not the toughest time in my life, but certainly the toughest time in my life professionally.”

But he said the scandal won’t affect his decision about whether or not to run in 2016.

“I haven’t made a decision about 2016, and I don’t intend to make a decision about 2016 until a year from now, but it won’t have anything to do with what’s happened in the past 10 weeks,” Christie said. “What’s happened in the past 10 weeks, I think, will ultimately make me a better leader, whether it’s as governor of New Jersey or in any other job I might take in the public or private sector.”

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