New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, responding for the first time to newly published emails that indicate a top aide was involved in controversial lane closures last year that snarled traffic, said Wednesday the intervention was “unsanctioned” and “unacceptable” — and claimed he would hold people “responsible.”
The governor released a brief written statement late Wednesday, following a report in The New York Times detailing emails involving his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly. They pertained to a bizarre incident in September, when lanes at the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., were closed for four days. Christie faced accusations that the lanes were blocked in retaliation over Mayor Mark Sokolich’s refusal to endorse him for re-election last November.
But Christie maintained Wednesday that he was “misled” and had no knowledge of his staff’s apparent involvement.
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” Christie said. “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”
The report Wednesday fueled Democratic accusations that the closures were political retribution against the local mayor. The local scandal threatens to become a national issue for Christie as he weighs a possible presidential run in 2016.
The Democratic National Committee responded to Christie’s statement by saying it neither explains or apologizes for the scandal, and called on Christie to give the public more than “his customary bluster and deflection.”
“It’s time that the so-called ‘straight talking’ governor takes some of his own advice – and he can do that by cooperating with all investigations surrounding the politically-motivated lane closures and ensuring his staff and associates do the same,” a DNC spokesman said.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that emails show his deputy chief of staff suggested closures to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey two weeks before the incident.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she wrote to Christie confidant David Wildstein, according to the Times. At the time, Wildstein was on the Port Authority; he has since resigned.
The George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York City, is one of the most heavily traveled commuter routes in the country, handling nearly 300,000 vehicles a day. The closures in September caused massive gridlock, leaving commuters stuck in traffic for hours.
It was the Port Authority that ordered the closures, claiming they were part of a traffic study.
The email messages also reportedly show New Jersey officials reacting after the closings were reversed.
“The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately going nuts,” Wildstein reportedly wrote to Kelly. “[Port Authority Chairman David] Samson helping us to retaliate.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said Wednesday that his constituents “were put in jeopardy because of some jerk who made a decision.”
Though Christie denies involvement, Democrats have tried to use the incident to undercut his image as a bipartisan problem-solver — amid expectations that he may run for president in 2016.