On the heels of a report
that cleared New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie of any prior knowledge of the Bridge-gate scandal that has rocked his administration since January, he told ABC News Thursday that he is disappointed in himself for not catching what his aides were doing.
The report was commissioned by Christie's office at taxpayer expense and used a law office that has been associated with Christie, leading critics to say the results might be biased. Christie still faces additional probes by federal prosecutors and the New Jersey legislature.
Critics have said that Christie uses bullying tactics, and that even if he was unaware of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that tied up traffic for four days in September, he set the tone for the actions of members of his staff. The lane closures are said to have been political retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
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"Have you asked yourself, did I do anything to create the climate in which this happened?" ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer asked Christie in the interview conducted in his home.
"Sure. I spent a lot of time over the last 11 weeks thinking about what did I do, if anything, to contribute to this? And I don't believe that I did," Christie said. "But I'm certainly disappointed in myself that I wasn't able to pick up these traits in these people. I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't look closer, that I trusted too much."
Christie also said he doesn't believe former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and transit authority appointee David Wildstein were acting on his behalf when they allegedly conspired to shut the traffic lanes.
"I don't believe it was 'for' me," Christie said.
"In this instance, this is not something that I think I inspired. And to the extent that any of them thought that this was acceptable conduct, then I fell short," Christie said.
He told Sawyer he didn't make it clear enough to his aides that such conduct was unacceptable, adding, "Believe me, from this day forward anybody who works for me will understand that."
Sawyer asked if the report makes Christie feel "clueless"?
"Not clueless, but it certainly makes me feel taken advantage of, and also, more importantly, I feel like I let people down by now knowing," he answered.
As to the critics who say he hired his own lawyers to produce the report, Christie said that none of those on the team who conducted the investigation had ever worked for him. He also said that, since he once served as U.S. attorney in New Jersey, it would be hard to find a law firm that didn't have ties to him.
The lawyers have their own professional and personal reputations to consider, and six of them are former federal prosecutors, he said.
"They're not going to whitewash anything for me."
He said he had no recollection of ever talking to Wildstein at a 9/11 event about the bridge lane closures, but was emphatic that whatever Wildstein may have said to him, he did not make a statement of guilt.
"I'll tell you what he didn't say," Christie said. "He didn't say, 'Hey, by the way, governor, I'm closing down some lanes on the George Washington Bridge to stick it to the mayor. Is that OK?' That I'd remember."
Christie said he won't be changing his leadership style, which has been called brash, if not outright bullying. Many across New Jersey, where he regularly holds town hall meetings, tell him it's what they love most about him, he said.
But Christie is also speculated to be a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. Sawyer asked if his style would play well there.
"I think they love me in Iowa, too, Diane," he said.
He did admit, however, that the scandal has been the toughest time of his professional life.
"You don't sleep. You don't eat. You struggle," he said.
Still, Christie said he never thought of stepping down.
"I'm just not a quitter," he said.
ABC plans to air more of the interview Thursday on "Nightline" and Friday on "Good Morning America."
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