Chris Christie publicly apologized for the “callous and indifferent” conduct of aides involved in the closure of two lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge in what appeared to be an act of political retribution against a local politician.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” Christie said.
The scandal has caused a shakeup in the top ranks of the governor’s tight-knit political circle. Christie, the potential frontrunner of the 2016 Republican presidential pack, said he has requested that his former two-time campaign manager and top adviser Bill Stepien leave his political organization, withdraw his name from consideration to be chairman of the state Republican party, and end his agreement to act as a consultant for the Republican Governors Association. He also said that he has fired the aide who plotted the lane closures, deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, “because she lied to me.”
Other top political advisers, including strategist Mike DuHaime and longtime friend Bill Palatucci, have assured him he had no knowledge of the scandal, Christie said.
The governor maintained that he had no knowledge that anybody on his staff knew about or had a hand in the lane closures and that when he convened his top advisers five weeks ago to ask them, they misled him. “I would never have come out here five weeks ago and made a joke about those lane closures if I had any inkling that anybody on my staff had anything to do with them,” Christie said, referring to a November press conference in which he brusquely dismissed reporters’ inquiries about scandal.
Democrats have charged that the Christie administration orchestrated the traffic problems in Fort Lee, New Jersey, after the town’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, refused to endorse the governor’s reelection. “Mayor Sokolich was not somebody who was ever mentioned to me,” Christie said, noting that his campaign sought the endorsement of hundreds of local politicians and was turned down by the majority.
The governor refuted allegations that he is a bully and that the reprisals exacted by Kelly reflect the culture of his office more broadly. ”I am who I am, but I am not a bully,” Christie said, noting that “it’s easy for people to be caricatured in public life.” The governor has cultivated a gruff, no-nonsense imagine, that of somebody who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, including in his own party. He has often said — and he repeated again today — that he is not a “focus-group tested, blow-dried politician.” Though he said the scandal has led to soul searching, it is doubtful that extends to his bombastic political persona.
Christie said he will travel to Fort Lee Thursday afternoon to apologize to the town’s residents and to Mayor Sokolich face to face.