(Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Thursday he is "embarrassed and humiliated" by his staff for the recent controversy involving lane closures on New York City's George Washington Bridge, allegedly plotted by one of his top aides as retribution against a New Jersey mayor for not endorsing Christie in his 2013 re-election campaign.
Christie apologized for the actions of his staff, saying at a press conference that he had no knowledge of the plot being carried out by Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and a port authority official last September to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
"I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution," he said of the controversy. "I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here." Christie went on to offer his apologies to the residents of Fort Lee and their mayor, Mark Sokolich, as well as the New Jersey legislature and the people of New Jersey.
Shortly before holding Thursday morning's press conference, Christie terminated the employment of Kelly because "she lied to me," he said. Emails released Wednesday indicate that Kelly and David Wildstein, an official at the Port Authority, apparently conspired back in September to have multiple lanes on the George Washington Bridge closed as revenge to Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie in his re-election campaign for governor in 2013.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote to Wildstein in September, to which the Port Authority official replied, "Got it."
The lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, which links New York City to New Jersey, took place around the time school was starting for several N.Y. and N.J. residents, causing many children to be late on their first day of school. One portion of the 23-page email exchange between Kelly and Wildstein indicates the two were aware how much they were inconveniencing Fort Lee residents.
"Is it wrong that I am smiling?" one of the officials wrote to another, according to the Los Angeles Times. It is unclear which official said this as parts of the email have been redacted.
"They are the children of Buono voters," another official replied, referencing state Sen. Barbara Buono, a democrat who ran against Christie in last year's election.
Christie reiterated on Thursday that he had no knowledge of the lane closure controversy, saying that he was "blindsided" by the media and heartbroken that his staff had kept their conniving plans from him.
Those critical of Christie, who is expected to run for U.S. president in the 2016 election, argue that this recent controversy shatters his image as being a no-nonsense type of politician. Christie has also been criticized by some Democrats as taking a political approach that makes him seem like a bully.
When asked by a reporter on Thursday if he was a bully and his style of politics included "pay back," Christie responded by saying, "No, I'm not [a bully]."
Christie then sought to defend his approach to politics. "I have very heated discussions and arguments with people in my own party and on the other side of the aisle. I feel passionately about issues. And I don't hide my emotions from people. I am not a focus-group tested, blow-dried candidate or governor."