Trenton, NJ, United States (4E) – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday issued a public apology over the closure of the George Washington Bridge lanes in September and announced the firing of his deputy chief of staff linked to the scandal.
“I apologize to the people of Fort Lee, and I apologize to the members of the state legislature,” Christie said in a lengthy press conference Thursday morning. “I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for their appropriate role in government and for the people that were trusted to serve.”
Christie said he would travel to Fort Lee to personally apologize to its mayor, Mark Sokolich, and that he was surprised about his staff’s action to exact revenge against the latter, whom he hardly knows, for not endorsing his reelection bid.
Christie also said Bridget Anne Kelly was fired for lying to him last month about her involvement in the bridge closures on Sept. 9-13, two months before Election Day, that caused traffic jams in Fort Lee and that he asked former election campaign manager Bill Stepien to withdraw his application to be the New Jersey GOP chairman and consultant for the Republican Governor’s Association.
Reports on Wednesday exposed the personal e-mail conversation and text messages between Kelly and Stepien in August suggesting she prodded David Wildstein, a top executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey appointed by Christie, to order the closure of the bridge. Christie was told the closure was the result of a mishandled traffic study.
Wildstein, who resigned in December due to the public outcry from the closure, has asked a court to dismiss a state Assembly subpoena to testify about the scandal invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.
Christie’s name did not appear in the e-mail exchanges of Kelly and Stepien. However, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), whose district includes Fort Lee, expressed doubt that the closure was Kelly’s own idea. Pascrell hinted that a long investigation is ahead.
Democratic New Jersey Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski said the e-mails call into question the integrity of the governor’s office, according to CNN. Political commentators said the scandal will impact on Christie’s 2016 presidential aspiration.
Christie is conducting his own investigation into the matter and asked anyone with related information to come forward.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union), called on U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman to convene a federal grand jury to look into the possibility of criminal abuse of public office related to the bridge lane closures, according to NJ.com. Sokolich supports the criminal investigation.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee, said laws were broken when the bridge lanes were closed for political reasons.