New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) faced the media today to announce that he was cleaning house in the wake of the bridge scandal and would go to the city of Fort Lee to apologize to the mayor and its residents.
“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 of government and for the people that we’re trusted to serve,” Christie said.
He said this morning he fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, whose name was on emails giving the green light on the closure of lanes on a key bridge between New York and New Jersey. The emails support the assertion that the closure, which created an epic traffic mess, was political retribution for the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee not supporting Christie’s re-election campaign. The emails don’t bear the governor’s name.
“I terminated her employment because she lied to me,” Christie said of Kelly. “I brought my senior staff together about four weeks ago tomorrow, and I put to all of them one simple challenge. If there is any information that you know about the decision to close these lanes in Fort Lee, you have one hour to tell either my chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd or my chief counsel, Charlie McKenna.”
“I told them that in an hour I was going to go out in the press conference, and if no one gave me other information to the contrary, I was going to say that no one on my staff was involved in this matter. Over the course of the next hour, Kevin and Charlie interviewed each member of my senior staff, came back and reported to me they all reported there was no information other than what we already knew.”
Christie said he saw the emails for the first time Wednesday morning when they were broken by the media.
“There’s no justification for that behavior. There’s no justification for ever lying to a governor or a person in authority in this government. As a result, I’ve terminated Bridget’s employment immediately this morning,” he said.
“I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust. I would never have come out here four or five weeks ago and made a joke about these lane closures had I ever had an inkling that anyone on my staff would have been so stupid but to be involved, and then so deceitful as to dis — just to not disclose the information of their involvement to me when directly asked by their superior.”
“I take this action today because it’s my job. I am responsible for what happened. I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short. We fell short of the expectations that we’ve created over the last four years for the type of excellence in government that they should expect from this office,” the governor continued. “But I have repeatedly said to them that while I promised them the best governor’s office I could give them, I could never promise a perfect governor’s office. So when I find those imperfections, those mistakes, those lies, my obligation as chief executive of this state is to act. And as to Bridget Kelly, I’ve acted today.”
But the heads weren’t done rolling.
“I was disturbed by the tone, and behavior, and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed in the e-mails by my former campaign manager, Bill Stepien. And reading that, it made me lose my confidence in Bill’s judgment. And you cannot have someone at the top of your political operation who you do not have confidence in. As a result, I’ve instructed Bill Stepien to not place his name in nomination for state party chairman, and he will not be considered for state party chairman. And I’ve instructed him to withdraw his consultancy with the Republican Governor Association,” Christie said.
“…But I don’t want any of you to confuse what I’m saying this morning. Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch, the good and the bad, and when mistakes are made, then I have to own up to them and take the action that I believe is necessary in order to remediate them… People of those communities for four days were impacted in a completely callous and indifferent way, and I’m going to go and apologize for that.”
“Let me conclude with this,” he continued. “This is not the tone that I’ve set over the last four years in this building. It’s not the environment I’ve worked so hard to achieve. We saw just a few months ago, and I’ve seen over the course of the last four years, Republicans and Democrats working together, not without argument — government is never without argument, but ultimately coming to resolution on so many different issues in a bipartisan way, and running a campaign what was in fact a bipartisan campaign.”
Christie took extensive questions from the press. He spoke for so long that the White House bumped its daily press briefing from 12:45 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.
When he goes to Fort Lee later in the day, he’ll face Mayor Mark Sokolich, who called Christie an “idiot” yesterday and said the people involved need an “ass-kicking.”
Christie said he never sought Sokolich’s endorsement and “couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.”
“Just so we’re really clear: I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning, or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover,” the governor said.