New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie again accepted responsibility for the spiraling bridge-gate scandal on Tuesday and pledged that it would not tarnish his second term nor prevent his administration from addressing the needs of the state's residents.
"Mistakes were clearly made," Christie said at the outset of his State of the State speech before a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature in Trenton. "And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve.
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"I know our citizens deserve better. Much better," he added. "I am the governor and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch — both good and bad."
The Republican governor pledged full cooperation with investigations into the closures last September on the George Washington Bridge that created massive gridlock and have since been criticized as political payback for a Democratic mayor who did not support his re-election bid last year.
"What has happened does not reflect well on us or our state," Christie said. "We will not allow this to keep us from doing what needs to be done for the people of New Jersey for any reason."
Christie's remarks came less than a week after one of his top aides was fired for ordering the lane closures at the toll booths at Fort Lee. The widening scandal threatens to undermine his second term and a possible presidential run.
Christie addressed the issue only briefly before taking credit for improving the state's economy.
In addition, CNN said on Monday that federal officials were investigating reports that Christie's administration misused funds for the Superstorm Sandy recovery in tourism ads that featured the governor and his family.
Christie first apologized for the scandal last week, saying in a two-hour news conference that he was "blindsided" by his staff's involvement.
His State of the State speech comes a day after two legislative panels said that they would continue their inquiries into the affair. One Democratic leader has called it an "abuse of power" probe.
The U.S. Attorney's office is also reviewing a possible political vendetta targeting Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who said on Monday that he was asked by a Christie operative to endorse the governor but never responded with a definitive answer.
Christie has denied any knowledge in the planning or execution of the closures, and no evidence has been found linking him to them. Emails released last week by the state Transportation Committee investigating the debacle show some in Christie's circle were told about the traffic jams days or weeks after they happened.
The emails and text messages, many from private accounts, were among the 2,000 pages of documents released on Friday. They referred to a meeting between Christie and Port Authority Chairman David Samson a week before former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly ordered the traffic lanes closed.
The data also showed that Port Authority police had blamed Sokolich for the ensuing four days of massive gridlock.
Overall, the documents showed a general state of chaos and anger — and efforts to stall media inquiries — as thousands of commuters were trapped in the huge gridlock but they failed to specifically tie the closures to what Christie said might have been a Port Authority traffic study.
The three local access lanes leading to the bridge's toll booths at Fort Lee were closed Sept. 9-13 without notice. This slowed school buses and emergency workers, including those responding to a call of an unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died at a Fort Lee hospital.
In other aspects of his State of the State address on Tuesday, Christie took credit for New Jersey's improving economy and cycled through such familiar themes as avoiding tax increases and working with the Democrats who control both legislative chambers.
He also promoted the state's rising high school graduation rate and proposed extending both the school day and school year but did not offer details. He promised to present choices to overhaul the state's tax system next month when he presents his budget proposal but did not offer an insight on how he might want to do that.
A tax cut he proposed two years ago died in the legislature.
Christie is set to be inaugurated for a second term on Jan. 21. The celebration will be on Ellis Island, historically a gateway for immigrants arriving in the United States.
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The Associated Press also contributed to this report.
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