Chris Christie apologizes in person to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich as saga continues

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Chris Christie apologizes in person to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich as saga continues
Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, left, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie participate in the morning session of the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: Howard Stern, Jimmy Kimmel and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attend "Howard Stern's Birthday Bash" presented by SiriusXM, produced by Howard Stern Productions at Hammerstein Ballroom on January 31, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jon Bon Jovi attend 'Howard Stern's Birthday Bash' presented by SiriusXM, produced by Howard Stern Productions at Hammerstein Ballroom on January 31, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waits for the start of a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides.(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, center, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, display different reactions as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, left, speaks during a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waits for the start of a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Faced with a widening political scandal that threatens to undermine his second term and a possible 2016 presidential run, Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" but that the issue doesn't define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives to deliver his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J.Faced with a widening political scandal that threatens to undermine his second term and a possible 2016 presidential run, Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" but that the issue doesn't define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center right, delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration ?let down the people we are entrusted to serve? but that it doesn?t define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration ?let down the people we are entrusted to serve? but that it doesn?t define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, second left, arrives at Fort Lee, N.J., City Hall, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Christie traveled to Fort Lee to apologize in person to Mayor Mark Sokolich. Moving quickly to contain a widening political scandal, Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his top aides Thursday and apologized repeatedly for the "abject stupidity" of his staff, insisting he had no idea anyone around him had engineered traffic jams to get even with a Democratic mayor. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
FORT LEE, NJ - JANUARY 09: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters the Borough Hall in Fort Lee to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich on January 9, 2014 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. According to reports Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
FORT LEE, NJ - JANUARY 09: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves the Borough Hall in Fort Lee where he apologized to Mayor Mayor Mark Sokolich on January 9, 2014 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. According to reports Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Governor Chris Christie talks to a reporter following a visit to Fort Lee Borough Hall Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Fort Lee, N.J. to apologize to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich about the governor's staff allegedly closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
TRENTON, NJ - JANUARY 9: David Wildstein (R) former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority and his attorney Alan Zegas (L) is sworn in to testify at a hearing held by the Assembly Transportation Committee January 9, 2014 in Trenton, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. The committee has subpoenaed David Wildstein former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority to testify about the agency's decision to temporarily close some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee in September 2013. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walks to the podium before a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
In a Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 photo, traffic moves across the George Washington Bridge, in Fort Lee, N.J. A top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is linked through emails and text messages to a seemingly deliberate plan to create traffic gridlock in a town at the base of the bridge after its mayor refused to endorse Christie for re-election. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly wrote in an Aug. 13 email to David Wildstein, a top political appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey and New York City. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
A car uses an onramp to the George Washington Bridge toll plaza in Fort Lee, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. The onramp was closed for three days in September 2013 snarling traffic at one of the world's busiest bridges, which links New Jersey and New York City. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faces political fallout over the traffic jam that caused hours-long backups for commuters and others as children started the school year.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Capitol Hill reporters watch a news conference with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie while waiting for House John Boehner's of Ohio news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Boehner said he believes Gov. Chris Christie remains a serious contender for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination, despite the traffic jam scandal engulfing the New Jersey governor.
This June 12, 2013 photo released by NBC shows host Jimmy Fallon, right, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Chistie during a taping of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," in New York. (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
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(Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Thursday fired a top aide who apparently helped orchestrate massive traffic jams at a busy commuter bridge to settle a score, saying he had been blindsided in the scandal that threatened to tarnish his political image.

As Christie apologized publicly for the abrupt lane closings seemingly ordered by some of his staff, and which he said he did not know about beforehand, the office of the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey said it was launching an investigation.

Revelations that his staff may have had a hand in plotting the four-day lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September, causing hours-long jams that stalled commuters, school buses and ambulances, come as Christie has emerged as a powerful figure in the Republican Party and a possible presidential contender.

The controversy erupted with the release on Wednesday of emails showing Christie's aide and allies appearing to plan lane closings in what critics said was a bid to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, at the New Jersey end of the bridge, because he had declined to endorse Christie's re-election effort.

"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team," Christie said. "I am who I am, but I am not a bully."

As the head of the party's governors association and a possible 2016 White House contender, the tough-talking governor has sought to present himself as a leader who can work with opponents and forge bipartisan alliances.

Christie said at his news conference that he dismissed his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who in the most damning of the emails, wrote to a Port Authority executive in August, saying: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

The executive, David Wildstein, replied: "Got it."

Wildstein later admitted ordering the lane closures and resigned his post. He supplied the emails to the media in response to a subpoena issued by a panel of state lawmakers.

Appearing before the panel on Thursday, Wildstein declined to answer questions, repeatedly invoking the constitutional protection not to say anything that might incriminate him.

The state Assembly's transportation, public works and independent authorities committee, which is probing the closures, voted to hold him in contempt.

The charge will be referred to a county prosecutor for determination of what it could mean for Wildstein, an Assembly spokesman said.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held before being elected governor, has opened a probe into the decision to close the bridge lanes, his spokeswoman said.

"Our office is reviewing it to determine whether a federal law was implicated," Rebekah Carmichael said in a statement.

A local newspaper reported emergency responders were delayed in attending to four medical situations - one involving an unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died of cardiac arrest and another, a car accident, in which four people were injured.

At the news conference, Christie referred to the lane closings as a "rogue political operation."

"I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here," Christie said. "This was handled in a callous and indifferent way, and this is not the way this administration has conducted itself over the last four years."

'HEARTBROKEN' AND APOLOGETIC

Christie took reporters' questions at the packed news conference in his office that lasted nearly two hours.

He appeared contrite, describing himself repeatedly as "heartbroken" and apologizing several times to the public, and even to the media.

Toward the end of his lengthy appearance, he visibly relaxed, leaning against the podium, and resorted to more typical form, calling one reporter's question "crazy."

He later visited Fort Lee and apologized to Mayor Mark Sokolich, who told reporters he accepted the apology.

"It was a terrible thing and we are going to work to fix it," Christie said as he left the town hall.

Christie has enjoyed immense popularity at home since his election in 2009, particularly for his handling of recovery and rebuilding efforts after Superstorm Sandy devastated his state in late 2012. He was re-elected in a landslide in November.

But he is known as well for engaging in shouting matches, hurling insults and belittling challengers.

Christie told the news conference he was "nowhere near" beginning to consider a possible 2016 presidential bid but some saw the traffic scandal as taking a major toll on his political career.

A New York Daily News editorial pronounced his presidential aspirations as "all but kaput," saying he will be "lambasted and lampooned as a man of low character and horrible judgment."

Taking a poke at Christie's heft as well, the Daily News front page headline on Thursday read: "Fat chance now, Chris."

But David Axelrod, a former political adviser to President Barack Obama, said on Twitter that Christie handled the issue at the news conference "about as well as he could."

"Unless smoking gun turns up tying him to scheme, or others arise, he lives to fight another day," Axelrod tweeted.
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