A downtrodden Governor Chris Christie apologized to the people of New Jersey today in his first press conference since the revelation of emails proving his staff’s involvement in creating traffic problems on the nation’s most trafficked bridge as political retribution. The emails’ authors have been fired, and Christie will visit Fort Lee, NJ today.
“Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch,” Christie told his audience, adding that he was “embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.” He repeated multiple times he was “stunned by the abject stupidity” of the emails and behavior and apologized multiple times for the entire incident.
Christie divided his press conference into two major announcements: the termination of Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly’s employment and a series of further interviews with staffers to see whether he has to fire anyone else; and the removal of Bill Stepian from the top of both the State Republican Party and a position of leadership in the Republican Governors’ Association. “I can never allow personal feelings or longstanding relationships to get in the way of my doing my job,” he emphasized as he announced both of the firings.
Christie noted that he told Kelly and every other staffer that they had one hour to tell him or his chief of staff whether they had anything to do with the traffic jam in Fort Lee, and all said they did not. He then told the press that no one in his staff had anything to do with the incident. “This was obviously a lie,” Christie noted, adding that “there is no justification… for ever lying to a governor or person in authority in this government.” He fired Kelly because “she lied to me,” as well as Stepian.
“I was disturbed by the callous indifference of Bill Stepian,” Christie noted. “You cannot have someone at the top of your political operation who you do not have confidence in.” Christie added an apology for a joke he made when first asked about the bridge scandal weeks ago, where he quipped that he was the one personally closing the lanes. “I would have never come out here four or five weeks ago and made a joke,” he argued, unless he was confident that no one on his staff “would be so stupid but to be involved and so deceitful as to not disclose the information of their involvement to me.”
Christie also announced that he was planning a trip to Fort Lee, New Jersey today to personally apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich and to the people of Fort Lee: “I think they need to see me do that personally.”
After his announcements, Christie took questions from the press, answering that the tone of his administration did not encourage the behavior. He stated he would not change his personal speaking manner over the incident, because he was not a “focus-tested, dry” politician.
Christie also received questions about his relationship to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Christie noted that he did not recall Sokolich as “ever on my radar as someone whose endorsement we were seeking,” adding that Sokolich himself told CNN he did not recall ever being asked for his endorsement. “I never saw this as political retribution because I didn’t think he did anything to us,” he added, noting that before his appearances on television yesterday, “I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.”