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Christie faces political fallout over traffic jam

Outrage Grows Over NJ Gov. Ties to Traffic Flap

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."

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lclark1123 January 10 2014 at 1:16 PM

This is so crazy political career ruined by traffice jam... stupid news media... president weather Benghazi... also this healthcare website mess... but a little traffic jam is all over the news as the end of Christi...just a bunch of crap.

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hmanden January 09 2014 at 5:50 PM

Track this lady that he suddenly "fired". Let's see if she winds up in some other big job from some political crony for just keeping quiet. OR if she seems to be just be home and have some mystery source of income to keep up her previous lifestyle.

AND what an obnoxious p---- this Wildstein is!

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hmanden January 09 2014 at 5:46 PM

Has anyone seen the resemblance of this Chris Christie----appearance, mannerisms, and speech to Ralph Kramden? Television has always found success in stories of blow hard losers---Ralph Kramden, Fred Flintstone, Homer Simpson, and now this guy!

How sweet it is!

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dbarr24 January 09 2014 at 5:03 PM

wow, you are such a tough man, right tubby? pushing around democrats who have less power, we are so impressed by you I guess. We have also seen how you act to a democrat who has MORE power than you ever will, right tubs? You nearly lost five pounds kissing up to Obama during the election with Romney, when you helped get your state to vote for him- remember??

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Bill January 09 2014 at 4:50 PM

So the media is starting already, they must be afraid of CC if they are going to make this into a scandal yet they let BO have a pass on everything: Libya, failed foreign policy, stalled economy, high unemployment, housing market in the toilet, fast and furious, failed stimulus the list goes on.

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shell.holston January 09 2014 at 3:05 PM

You can be sure Christi has taken the right road and made a decision to FIRE the people he hired to do the job they failed to do and that is MORE THAN OBAMA HAS EVER DONE! The Dems will continue to castigate Christi because he is a threat to Hillary in 2016 or any one else because they think she is the answer to all their problems, ie., welfare, SNAP, Section 8, food stamps, free health care, in short, ALL their needs taken care of by hard working people who get NOTHING FROM THE GOVERNMENT!

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3 replies to shell.holston's comment
bigspin7 January 09 2014 at 2:55 PM

oh my God this is such a big deal - is this as bad as Hillary and her responsibility for not getting our men protected???? then a fall and she bumped head and couldn't testify - what the hell is the matter without country????? all lies all lies, so Christie just fits in

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John January 09 2014 at 2:49 PM

The disdain that politicos show for the citizens of this country is appalling . In their partisanship they wind up crushing all manner of businesses, people and ideals. The Party of the Stupid is no worse than the Party of the Spenders. Each is awful. Look at what they want to do to citizens now, they want to import 30 million under educated social problems from third world nations and give them the rights of citizens without vetting any of them. What an appalling state of affairs. They have trashed our economy, they encourage indolence, they foster the destruction of social order. Simply a mess governed by people of no conscience.

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camoss75 January 09 2014 at 2:26 PM

Now the DOJ is going to investigate Christi's Traffic Jam Scandal. What I'd like to know is when is the DOJ going to investigate themselves for the murders of 100's of innocent Mexican citizens and one of our own border agents during Fast & Furious?

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dbarr24 January 09 2014 at 2:29 PM

some people sure want to change the subject to something, and somebody, else. Anything and anybody I bet

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cvanac8550 January 09 2014 at 1:49 PM

None of this makes any sense. I Iistened to the entire Christie interview and I don't know what to believe except it seems like grown,educated,powerful people acted like grammer school bullies.
Nothing in this state makes much sense to begin with. Why does it seem that towns like Union and Somerville just to name two have such high property while in fact have so many commercial businesses.Tax breaks for the businesses on the backs of the property owners.

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1 reply to cvanac8550's comment
cvanac8550 January 09 2014 at 1:50 PM

I mean property taxes

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~~ 2592000

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