Suddenly caught in scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday said he is “embarrassed and humiliated” over his administration’s intentional closing of highway lanes in the city of a political opponent and vowed to get to the bottom of the controversy.
During a nearly two-hour long press conference Thursday, Christie said he was “blindsided” about the closings and only learned that top aides were involved on Wednesday. He took responsibility, however, apologized and announced the firing of his deputy chief of staff over the issue.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution,“ Christie said at a news conference. “And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
Christie said he planned to visit Fort Lee, the location of the road closings, to offer his apologies in person.
The specifics surrounding the situation are still unknown. Christie said he still does not know what prompted the lane closings.
“I don’t know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study,” Christie said.
The governor has denied for several weeks that political motivations were behind the closing of busy highway lanes leading to a bridge between New Jersey and New York City last year.
But after emails and texts released this week indicate top officials in his administration may have intentionally closed the roads to exact political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for failing to endorse his re-election last year, Christie said he fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly.
“I terminated her employment because she lied to me,” he said.
Christie also announced that he has cut ties with with campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who it was revealed was involved in emails about the closings. Christie said he asked Stepien to no longer vie to become leader of the New Jersey Republican Party.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people that we’re trusted to serve,” he said.
The most damaging message to surface this week: Kelly writing in August to a Port Authority official, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” After that, two of the three lanes to the busy George Washington Bridge were closed, causing massive traffic delays.
Before this week, Christie previously dismissed the accusations from Democrats that the road closings were political. The scandal comes as Christie – who defeated his Democratic opponent in a November landslide – appears to be gearing up for a 2016 presidential campaign.