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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has scheduled a news conference for Thursday, one day after emails and text messages revealed his administration may have closed highway lanes to exact political retribution.
There was likely to be fallout for the second time in weeks, given that the governor issued a statement Wednesday saying he was "outraged and deeply saddened" by the revelations. He said he was misled by a key aide and he denied involvement.
"This completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge," he said in the statement. "People will be held responsible for their actions."
The governor was set to answer questions at the Statehouse at 11 a.m., just weeks after he announced the resignation of a top appointee at the center of the controversy. During a previous news conference, Christie had called a Democratic-led state investigation into the incident politically motivated and joked that he had personally put up traffic cones to close the lanes.
This was supposed to be a month of celebration for Christie's political future.
But after the personal messages revealed Wednesday that his administration may have closed highway lanes to exact political retribution, the prospective Republican presidential candidate is faced with what may be the biggest test of his political career.
The revelations thrust a regional transportation issue into a national conversation raising new questions about the ambitious governor's leadership on the eve of a second term designed to jumpstart his road to the White House.
Critics quickly emerged across New Jersey and beyond, high-profile Democrats and Republicans among them, including some who know the 51-year-old governor best.
"What are these people doing?" asked a baffled former New Jersey Republican Gov. Tom Kean, whom Christie has often described as a mentor. "The closer to the governor this is, the more harm that it's going to do."
The emails and text messages suggest that one of Christie's top aides engineered traffic jams in the New Jersey town last September to punish its Democratic mayor. The messages do not directly implicate Christie, but they appear to contradict his assertions that the closings were not punitive and that his staff was not involved.
The messages were obtained by The Associated Press and other news organizations amid a statehouse investigation into whether the lane closings that led to the tie-ups were retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie for re-election last fall.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly wrote in August in a message to David Wildstein, a top Christie appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
A few weeks later, Wildstein closed two of three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the heavily-traveled George Washington Bridge, which runs between New Jersey and New York City.
Beyond the specifics of the lane closures, critics suggest the incident reflects a darker side of Christie's brand of politics that contradicts the image he'd like to project as he eyes the presidency.
The governor repeatedly sidestepped criticism that he bullied adversaries in an overwhelming re-election victory in November. Facing a little-known and underfunded opponent, he cast himself as a different kind of Republican: a compromising, consensus builder who ultimately earned strong support from minorities, union members and even many Democrats.
It was described as the opening argument for Christie's prospective White House run. That argument is now clouded, at least temporarily, during one of the most important transitions of his political career.
In less than two weeks, he is scheduled to celebrate his second inauguration in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on historic Ellis Island, a symbolic beginning to a second term designed to expand Christie's bipartisan appeal. He also is expected to unveil his second-term priorities - solidifying his presidential resume - in a state-of-the-state address later this month, while beginning an aggressive national travel schedule as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Even if Christie navigates the current situation quickly, Republican operative Hogan Gidley said it would almost surely come back to haunt him in a presidential run. He described Christie's "bulldog style" as both a political asset and a liability.
"I don't necessarily think it's Christie's policy that's going to ultimately catapult or sink his campaign; I think it's his personality," said Gidley, a senior adviser to 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
The messages also raise questions about Christie's most recent appointee to the Republican Governors Association, Bill Stepien, who was in communication with Wildstein about the lane closures while managing Christie's re-election campaign. Wildstein, a childhood friend of the governor, is scheduled to testify later Thursday before a state Assembly committee but is fighting the subpoena.
National conservative opinion leaders joined Christie's critics Wednesday, while the Democratic National Committee released a web video that details Christie's earlier assurances that neither he nor his staff had anything to do with the closures.
"I've made it to very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it, and they've all assured me that they don't," Christie said in mid-December, mentioning Stepien by name.
DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said the "revelations are troubling for any public official." But she said: "They also indicate what we've come to expect from Gov. Christie - when people oppose him, he exacts retribution. When people question him, he belittles and snidely jokes. And when anyone dares to look into his administration, he bullies and attacks."
Other Republicans have been critical of Christie's politics in the past.
In a book released in November, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney raised concerns about Christie's insistence that Romney obtain Christie's approval to raise money in New Jersey. Romney found Christie's position "galling, like something out of 'The Soprano's,'" according to the authors of the book "Double Down: Game Change 2012."
Kean said it was imperative for Christie to address the latest issue head on.
"He's known as a straight shooter and a straight talker. He's got to be the same on this one," Kean said. "Whatever's there, get it all out, and do it now."
Kristie Kreme should have been aware that the "adoring media" would eventually turn on him....being a threat to Hillary Rodman and all. Priorities, after all....
Sleazeball Politics at it's best! He'd make a real good President - of the Cup Cake Administration!
THIS MAY FINALLY OPEN UP A CHANCE FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL TO INVESTIGATE ALL OF THE DEMOCRATIC CORRUPTION IN OUR STATE. WE START WITH THIS REPUBLICIAN MESS, THEN ROLL INTO OTHER INVESTIGATIONS AND END UP FINALLY WITH MOST OF THE DEMOCRATIC CORRUPTION AT CITY, COUNTY, AND STATE LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT IN IN JAIL. THIS MAY BE JUST WHAT WE THE CITIZENS WERE PRAYING FOR TO HAPPEN. THERE IS ALWAYS A BRIGHT SIDE TO EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS. THE ONLY WAY TO LOWER TAXES IN NJ IS TO RID TRENTON OF THE DEMOCRATES.
I don't know if Christie is involved....time and investigation will tell, but I do have to wonder why this Bridgett person still has a job. We know she sent the emails and she should be gone. Her still being there makes him look guilty.
It's a den of thieves mentallity in Politicis!
Who in their right mind would think this was a good idea??!!!??
You have to remember, they didn't think anyone would know about it and the reward was bad press for another politician who didn't "tow their line"...
I don't care what party he is from, he is a bully. He is an arrogant, bull-headed, socially ignorant, pompous bully and if thats what you want from a leader then support him. If you would like someone with a more tempered, thoughtful style who really wants to include everyone on an equal basis you had better start looking around because you won't find it with him. Even if he didn't know or strongly suspect that this happened on his watch, which would make him a fool, then he is stupid enough to hire more than one jerk in a position of authority who would perpetrate this kind of debacle. Christie, being the type of person he is has shot himself in the foot and he couldn't help but do it, it's ingrained in his personality. And what really funny is his supporters can't do anything but rail against someone else, the President, the Democrats, their mother-in-law, aliens, climate change whom or whatever. God frobid they should stick to the story, it's just way to uncomfortable to look in the mirror when you have a big zit on your nose.
I don't see any potential candidates that will be good for the country. We're in deep doo doo unless a miricle happens and we get a third party candidate in as president. A party that puts country and the people before themselves and their cronies. A person that has character and cannot be corrupted like all the people in Washington today.
Another thought... I wouldn't be surprised if criminal and civil lawsuits weren't filed for those that had a dire emergency. It's already said a 91 yr old died because the ambulance took twice as long to reach her. If I were her family, you can bet I'd sue through the nose and I'd sue for ALL involved.
Was he living under a rock when all of that was going on, it was in the papers, good president material, he can lie with the best of them, I'll be glade when they finally expose this fraud like so many they need to do.
I am not a Christie fan and thnk he would be as bad as George Bush, the White House's current occupant or Hillary, but is the criteria for running includes being scandal free how were all of these other people ever considered?