Christie: I Was Misled By Staff on Bridge Closings

Wednesday, 08 Jan 2014 04:43 PM

By Todd Beamon

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Wednesday said he was misled by his staff and promised "people would be held responsible" after revelations that a top aide played a central role in the controversial closing of parts of the George Washington bridge.

"What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable," the Republican governor, considered a 2016 presidential candidate, said in a statement. "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," Christie said. "This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."

The governor's statement came after emails and text messages published by The Newark Star-Ledger showed that Christie's administration was involved in a plan to badly tie up a traffic on the bridge at Fort Lee to pay back the city's mayor for not supporting him.

Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, did not endorse Christie's re-election bid. The George Washington Bridge is among the world's busiest, carrying more than 300,000 vehicles on a typical day.

The Star-Ledger itself said in an editorial on Wednesday that Christie was not fit for office — on the state or national level — regardless of his role in the spiraling Bridge-gate scandal.

The documents obtained by the paper showed one of Christie's top aides suggesting that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" about a month before lanes were closed on the bridge, heavily snarling commuter traffic heading into New York City.

The emails and text messages were among a trove of data released to a New Jersey Assembly committee examining the closure of the bridge in September.

Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff for Christie, sent the email on Aug. 13 to David Wildstein, the former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In one exchange of text messages about school buses caught in traffic, a recipient of a Wildstein text said: "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?"

"No," Wildstein replied.

"I feel badly about the kids," the person replied.

Wildstein replied: "They are the children of Buono voters."

Democrat Barbara Buono opposed Christie in his November re-election bid, which he handily won for his second term. On Wednesday, Buono told The Daily Beast that the emails and texts show Christie's continued abuse of power.

"This is a guy who runs a paramilitary operation," Buono said. "His people don't sneeze without checking with him first. But I think what really was the most damning [revelation] was the cavalier attitude that these folks had about subjecting children and the public to public safety hazards. These are terrible people, and the ringleader is Chris Christie."

Christie had denied that he or anyone in his administration had a role in the lane closures. Both the governor and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have said the lane shutdowns were enacted for a traffic study.

The bridge was closed Sept. 9-13, when commuters found themselves stuck in traffic after lanes were closed without any prior notice.

Three of the 12 eastbound toll booths heading into New York from New Jersey on the bridge had been set aside for years for morning rush-hour traffic. But during a traffic study on those days in September, the three lanes were cut to one, and the other two lanes were dedicated to regular traffic.

Earlier Wednesday, Christie canceled his only public event with no explanation.

Meanwhile at a news conference in the state capital of Trenton, Deputy New Jersey Assembly Speaker John Wisniewski, a Democrat, said revelations about the emails showed "government at its worst."

"Among other things, they call into serious question the honesty of this governor and his staff. As a result of what has been revealed today, this governor has a lot of explaining to do," Wisniewski said.

Christie often touts his willingness to work with opponents as well as allies — a stance seen as a way of positioning himself as a national candidate able to close bitter partisan divides and win the White House.

A former prosecutor, Christie was highly visible working with Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, and he notably praised President Barack Obama in 2012 for his response to New Jersey's needs after Superstorm Sandy.

While Christie is popular, some think his blunt, tough-talking style may trip him up on the national stage.

He is known for engaging in shouting matches, hurling insults and waging belittling campaigns. Some opponents have reported being stripped of police security or being disinvited from political events after clashing with Christie.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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