Traffic is certainly a part of life in New Jersey, but Gov. Chris Christie's taken matters to another level. In a scandal that has been slowly bubbling and finally boiled over Wednesday, emails obtained by The Record of Bergen County, N.J., show that top Christie staffers orchestrated a huge traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge. In a press conference Wednesday, Christie deflected any blame on himself, but took full responsibility for the situation. He fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and instructed his two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien, to not take over as leader of the state Republican Party.
A contrite Christie, who appeared combative at times, apologized to the people of New Jersey. "Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch — the good and the bad." Christie said. "All I can do is apologize for the people that work under me; I can't reverse time."
The governor said he was embarrassed and humiliated by the actions of his senior aides. He only learned about emails and texts between Kelly and Port Authority executive David Wildstein — a longtime friend of Christie — after they were leaked Tuesday morning, he said. (Christie noted that he had been hitting the gym beforehand, thank you very much.) Kelly's emails are quite incriminating:
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” his aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, wrote to a Port Authority executive in August.The executive, David Wildstein, replied in an email: “Got it.”
… In another message sent amid the gridlock, an unidentified author wrote: “Is it wrong that I’m smiling,” and Wildstein responded: “No.”
"They are the children of Buono voters."
Christie says he was completely blindsided, and he was told the jam was due to a last-minute traffic study. He called the actions by his staff members "stupid" and "deceitful."
"I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity shown here ... This was handled in a callous and indifferent way."
Christie is currently conducting one-on-one interviews with his staff — whom he describes as "a family" — but he is not done yet. Christie said he interrogated his staff four weeks ago over the GWB situation and gave them a one-hour ultimatum, but no new information was revealed. "That was obviously a lie," Christie said. "There's no justification for lying to a governor."
Christie says he hasn't personally talked to Kelly since learning about the emails.
By the middle of the presser, Christie was getting testy, particularly when asked about his possible Republican presidential hopes. "My focus is on people of New Jersey," he said (as he's said a million times before), "And as you can tell, I've got plenty to do."
Addressing implications that he is a micro-managing governor, Christie says he delegates huge responsibility to his staff members. "I am not a focus group-tested, blow-dried governor ... I am who I am, but I am not a bully," Christie said.
Christie admitted he doesn't know what's going on at all times in every agency in the state. "Human beings are not perfect," He said. "Mistakes are made."
When questioned about the bridge closure being a sort of political retribution on the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Christie said that he courted hundreds of Democrats for endorsement, and he wouldn't have been able to pick Mayor Mark Sokolich "out of a lineup."
The best voice on this growing scandal? Jon Stewart, senior New Jersey correspondent, of course.