New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks about his knowledge of a road study that snarled traffic at the George Washington Bridge during a news conference Jan. 9 at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Credit: Getty Images
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized to the residents of his state in a press conference Thursday after emails from one of his top aides were released, revealing she played a role in lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in an act of political retaliation.
Christie remained steadfast in his denial of any prior knowledge that top aide Bridget Kelly asked Port Authority executive David Wildstein in August to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge after the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., didn't endorse Christie for re-election. The governor said he fired Kelly on Thursday morning because she lied to him when he asked his staff weeks ago whether they had any knowledge of involvement in the lane closures when the accusations began to surface.
Christie's statement came on the heels of an investigation opened into the legal implications of the scandal by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team," Christie said. "I believe all the people who were affected by this conduct deserve this apology and that's why I am giving it to them. I need to apologize to them for my failure as governor of this state to understand the true nature of this problem sooner than I did. I believe I have an understanding now."
The controversy began after the public release of several incriminating emails, including one in which Kelly wrote to Wildstein in August, saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The email came after Fort Lee's democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, didn't endorse Christie in his bid for re-election.
Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie, responded, "Got it."
Four days of lane closures in September on the George Washington Bridge, which connects Manhattan to Fort Lee, N.J., resulted in massive traffic jams and have been blamed for the slow response times of emergency vehicles and severe delays in buses carrying young students to their first day of school.
Christie insisted he was shocked when he saw the emails for the first time after the story broke in the press Wednesday and had been under the impression the lane closures were part of a traffic study.
"I am heartbroken that someone I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years has betrayed my trust," he said Thursday.
Christie said he will continue to have one-on-one conversations with his staff members to determine whether there is any further information about their involvement in the incident, and will release that information accordingly. He also said he plans to meet personally with Sokolich on Thursday afternoon.
"Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch — the good and the bad," Christie said. "When mistakes are made, I have to own up to them and take action I believe is necessary in order to remediate them."
He capped his prepared remarks by saying, "I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution. I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here. Regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover, this was handled in a callous and different way and not the way this administration has conducted itself over the last four years, and not the way it will conduct itself in the next four years."
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman has opened an investigation into the lane closures, according to his office.
"The Port Authority Office of Inspector General has referred the matter to us, and our office is reviewing it to determine whether a federal law was implicated," Rebekah Carmichael said in a statement, reported by Reuters.
Christie has been widely considered as a White House contender in 2016, though this scandal could compromise his public image.