New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was asked by someone in the audience at a town hall meeting Thursday about the Bridge-gate scandal that has enveloped his administration in recent months.
It was the first time anyone brought up the controversy at one of the informal question-and-answer sessions the Republican governor holds around the state.
His response was firm.
"I don’t approve of what happened, I didn’t approve of what happened, and I’m doing everything I can right now to make sure that something like that never happens again," Christie said. "One of the steps you do is get rid of the offending folks who thought that was OK, and who thought it was OK when you’re asked directly."
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Christie was referring to Bridget Anne Kelly, his now former chief of staff who, according to emails made public in January, ordered two lanes
on the George Washington Bridge closed last Sept. 9. Massive traffic jams occurred as a result of the move, which was apparent political payback against Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich after he would not endorse Christie for reelection.
Christie claims he knew nothing about the lane closings, and during a press conference in January he made that clear. He also announced that Kelly had been fired for her role in the scandal.
But a member of the audience Thursday pressed Christie on the reason Kelly was fired.
"You had a press conference and said you fired her because she lied to you," the questioner said. "And I know that if a subordinate lies to you, that’s a big blow to your ego, esteem, self-respect and everything like that. I think that is a very self-centered reason for firing somebody. Her real offense was being involved in the shutting down of the George Washington Bridge.
"You made the firing contingent on the lie, at least that’s what you said in the press conference. The firing should be contingent on the involvement in an illegal act."
Christie responded by explaining his actual reason for letting Kelly go. When he asked her if she was responsible for the lane closure, Kelly reportedly told the governor she was not.
"There were lots of reasons for the firing," Christie said. "What I said [in the press conference] was that I can’t have somebody work for me who lies to me because that stuff can extend to a whole variety of subjects."
When pressed further, Christie continued to make his case that what Kelly did was wrong — and that was one of the reasons she was fired.
"Don’t take from the fact that I fired her because she lied … if she had told me the truth she would have gotten fired too because of what she did," Christie said. "But I never had the chance to hear the truth. The offense, first and foremost, is not being honest with the person you’re working for. The secondary offense was if she had been honest and told me, yeah she would have been fired anyway."
The man continued to question Christie and did not seem satisfied with the response. He wanted to hear the governor say, without question, that Kelly was fired for her role in the bridge scandal — "an illegal act," he called it.
"When you’re standing in this circle and you’re the governor of New Jersey, you don’t have the luxury to give your opinion on that [being illegal] when there’s an investigation going on and you have to cooperate with it in every way," Christie said. "Secondly, I know what you heard. But you also had to hear how many times I said that what was done was wrong and abusive and unacceptable.
"I think you’re taking my words and just taking some of them, and not all of them. Because all of them that day made it very clear that this was something that I did not approve of, would not approve of, and thought was wrong and abusive."
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