New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized Thursday for his office’s alleged involvement in a scheme supposedly designed to punish a local Democratic Mayor.
“I come out here to today to apologize to the people of New Jersey,” said Christie. “I apologize to the people of Fort Lee. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.”
The Republican governor announced Thursday that he had fired Bridget Anne Kelly, a top aide connected to the plot that tangled Fort Lee, N.J., with traffic.
“I terminated her employment because she lied to me,” Christie said.
Kelly in an Aug. 13 email to former Port Authority Director of Interstate Capital Projects David Wildstein wrote: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Soon after her email correspondence with Wildstein, a Christie ally, Fort Lee was besieged with four days of lane closure-related traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge.
But Christie maintained Thursday that he knew nothing of the alleged plot that many believe was meant to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for refusing to endorse the governor against Democratic challenger Barbara Buono. Christie said he never sought Sokolich’s endorsement and Sokolich said Wednesday he didn’t recall the governor’s office ever asking for one.
“I don’t remember ever meeting Mayor Sokolich,” Christie said. “I’m sure I met him at some point in an event in Bergen County, but I have to tell you, until I saw his picture last night on television, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a lineup.”
“And so part of this is — the reason that the retribution idea never came into my head is because I never even knew that we were pursuing his endorsement, and no one ever came to me to get me to try to pursue the endorsement in any way, so I never saw it as a serious effort,” Christie added, referring to why he didn’t doubt his aides when they told him they knew nothing of the Fort Lee lane closures.
Speaking for nearly two hours, the Republican governor made it absolutely clear that he takes full responsibility for his office’s actions.
“I would never have come out here four of five weeks ago and made a joke about these lane closures if I ever had an inkling that anyone on my staff would be so stupid to be involved and so deceitful,” Christie said. “Ultimately I am responsible for what happens under my watch, for good and for bad.”
The New Jersey governor also announced that he had fired Bill Stepien, one of his closest consultants and advisors.
“I was disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude, callous indifference, that was displayed in emails by my former campaign manager,” Christie said. “It made me lose my confidence in Bill’s judgment.”
As a result of the bridge scandal, Stepien has also lost his contract with the Republican Governor’s Association, which Christie heads.
Stepien served as Christie’s campaign manager at the time of the governor’s office’s alleged involvement in the “traffic study” scandal. Put another way, this would be the equivalent of President Barack Obama responding to a crisis by firing longtime campaign manager and advisor David Plouffe.
“If I cannot truest someone’s judgment I cannot ask others to do so,” Christie said, adding “I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here. This was handled in a callous and indifferent way.”
The governor said he would travel to Fort Lee to meet with people affected by the lane closures, adding that he planned to personally apologize to them.
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This post has been updated.