New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie is denying any knowledge of an obsessive and vindictive effort by a deputy chief of staff and his appointees to hurt a Democratic mayor who wouldn’t endorse his 2013 re-election bid, after a New Jersey newspaper published 20 pages of e-mails and texts from the Christie loyalists who were gleeful about wreaking havoc in the Democratic enclave of Fort Lee last fall.
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” Christie, the leading 2016 GOP presidential prospect, said Wednesday. “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not ony was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowldege.”
Christie’s scripted apology comes after months of arrogant denials in a scandal that puts his judgement and leadership into sharp relief. It is almost inconceivable that the brash governor would not have known about actions undertaken on his behalf by top aides–from the governor’s office, his re-election campaign and senior appointees.
For months, the brash New Jersey governor has been hitting back at reporters and critics who dared to suggest that the surprise closure of three lanes of traffic on the New Jersey approach to the George Washington Bridge in the opening week of school was retribution for the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee not endorsing Christie’s 2013 re-election.
Three weeks ago, Christie said at press conference that he was angry that the city had three dedicated lanes for an approach to one of the area’s busiest bridges–all but telling commuters, school bus drivers and emergency responders to shut up. “I don’t know why Fort Lee needs three dedicated lanes, to tell the truth… That kind of gets me sauced.”
Christie’s bravado has now blown up and badly backfired, as national political reporters, such as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza are now writing that “Bridge-gate is a very real problem” for the Republican who’s been leading in polls as the party’s presidential nominee in 2016. Christie and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, have been running neck and neck, with support just below 50 percent.
“Prior to these e-mails, the story was–in Christie’s retelling–a case of the Port Authority acting badly,” the Post’s Cillizza wrote. “Well, now, one of his top aides is caught red-handed delivering a bit of political payback.”
Christie apparently cancelled an event in Ocean City on Wednesday to respond to the publication of the e-mails and texts by Bergen Record, a northern New Jersey newspaper.
“Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee,” wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, on Aug. 13, 2013, to David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority, which operates the bridges between New York and New Jersey. “Got it,” replied Wildstein, who, ordered that three lanes be closed for a traffic study.
The closure brought traffic on one of the nation’s busiest bridges to a virtual standstill. School buses arrived hours late. Emergency responders could not get to area hospitals–leading to at least one death. Efforts by New York’s appointees to reopen the lanes went unanswered. Afterward, as reporters explored what was going on, Christie brushed it off, claiming his office and campaign weren’t involved. He even joked about moving the traffic cones himself.