New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
(USA TODAY) -- Gov. Chris Christie apologized Thursday for politically motivated lane closures on the
George Washington Bridge that gridlocked a small town, as he announced
he fired a top aide and severed ties with his campaign chief for their
roles in the scandal.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the
people on my team," Christie said, adding that he is "sick over this."
is "no doubt in my mind the conduct exhibited is completely
unacceptable and shows the lack of respect for the appropriate role of
government and the people we are trusted to serve," Christie said.
Christie said he fired Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, and asked Bill Stepien,
manager of his successful re-election campaign, to withdraw his name as
leader of the state Republican Party and leave a new job at the Republican Governors Association,
which Christie heads. Both had sent e-mails, revealed Wednesday, about
the lane closures. Two Christie appointees to the agency that oversees
the bridge resigned in December.
Christie, sounding subdued and
chastened at times, answered questions for well over an hour about the
scandal - an issue he had once joked about by saying he himself had
placed the traffic cones. He insisted Thursday he did not know at the
time about the actions of his aides and appointees.
had no knowledge or involvement in this issue in its planning or its
execution," the governor said. "I am stunned by the abject stupidity
shown here. Regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover, this was
handled in a callous and indifferent way."
He said it was "obvious" that Kelly had lied to him when he asked
staff to disclose whether they had any knowledge of the traffic jams
that occurred last fall.
Christie said he would go to Fort
Lee, N.J., the town at the New Jersey end of the George Washington
Bridge, to apologize to the mayor and residents for the traffic jams
that engulfed them for four days in September.
scandal tarnishes Christie as he raises his national profile as the
leader of the governors association and possibly prepares for a 2016 bid
for the GOP presidential nomination. He has consistently been at the
top of early presidential polls of potential candidates, and parlayed
his image as a tough-talking politician to easily win a second term as
governor. At the news conference, Christie dismissed any discussion of
his presidential ambitions.
Christie's comments came amid news reports the U.S. attorney will launch an investigation into the matter. A state investigation is already underway.
STORY: Will scandal tarnish Christie's 2016 appeal?
See Also: Key players in the NJ bridge scandal
News organizations obtained copies of the communication
between Kelly, then Christie's deputy chief of staff and David
Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and
New Jersey, that indicated they schemed to cause delays on the heavily
traveled bridge. Messages from Stepien were also in the e-mails released.
Before Christie's news conference, State Sen. Ray Lesniak,
D-N.J., called for a federal investigation by the U.S. attorney's
office. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., had already asked the
federal Transportation Department to look into the matter.
The. U.S. attorney's office has launched an investigation.
"There's certainly reasonable suspicion that criminal acts have been involved here," Lesniak, a Democrat, said on CNN's New Day.
"Not only abuse of governmental power for political purposes, but we
have reckless endangerment of people's lives and possibly criminally
Wildstein, who resigned in December from the port authority,
was scheduled to testify before a state Assembly transportation
committee.He was the recipient of a message in August from Kelly, who wrote,"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
"Got it,'' Wildstein replied. Weeks later, he closed two of the three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the bridge.
from Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich went unheeded as the traffic jams
continued. Sokolich, a Democrat, did not endorse Christie for
re-election, during a campaign in which the governor stressed his
ability to work across the aisle with political rivals. Christie sought
and obtained endorsements from dozens of Democratic elected officials.
The bridge delays reportedly slowed emergency workers trying to respond to calls, according to The Record. The Hackensack, N.J., newspaper reported one of those calls involved an unconscious 91-year-old woman, who later died.
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