Chris Christie: ‘I Am Embarrassed and Humiliated’

The New Jersey governor held a marathon, 107-minutes-long press conference on the unfurling George Washington Bridge scandal.

A toll booth at the George Washington Bridge on December 17, 2013 in Ft. Lee, New Jersey.
National Journal
Brian Resnick and Matt Berman
See more stories about...
Brian Resnick Matt Berman
Jan. 9, 2014, 6:14 a.m.

New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie likes to make a splash at press con­fer­ences. But this one, held on Thursday morn­ing, clearly was not the kind of con­fer­ence Christie ever wanted to hold.

“I am em­bar­rassed and hu­mi­li­ated by the con­duct of some of the people on my team,” Christie began. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the con­duct they ex­hib­ited is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able.” And, he ad­ded, the people of Fort Lee “were im­pacted in a com­pletely cal­lous and in­dif­fer­ent way.”

“Ul­ti­mately, I am re­spons­ible for what hap­pens un­der my watch — the good and the bad”

When Christie first ap­proached his staff on the lane clos­ings, he said he was as­sured that no one was in­volved. “And emails I saw for the first time yes­ter­day morn­ing,” he said, “…prove that that was a lie.” He said he asked those ques­tions of his staff “re­peatedly.”

Asked if he’d con­sidered resign­ing, Christie strongly pushed back. “Oh God no…That’s a crazy ques­tion, man.”

News out­lets have framed this con­fer­ence in stark terms. The New York Times, for in­stance, led its web­site with a head­line that said “His Fu­ture at Stake.” More lib­er­al out­lets yes­ter­day were quick to say this scan­dal could be the end for him. A more meas­ured view is that it will at least tar­nish his craf­ted straight talk per­sona. The U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in New Jer­sey is open­ing a pre­lim­in­ary in­quiry in­to the mat­ter — iron­ic, con­sid­er­ing Christie used to hold that po­s­i­tion. At least one Christie staffer — Brid­get Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff — in­volved in the Port Au­thor­ity scheme has been fired. “I ter­min­ated her em­ploy­ment be­cause she lied to me,” Christie said.

“I am heart broken,” he ad­ded. He said he had no con­ver­sa­tions with Kelly after the emails were re­vealed.

“I nev­er saw this as polit­ic­al re­tri­bu­tion, be­cause I didn’t think he did any­thing to us.”

Christie main­tained that he thought the clos­ures were re­lated to a traffic study. “There may still have been a traffic study,” he said, not want­ing to rule any­thing out at this point. “I prob­ably wouldn’t know a traffic study if I tripped over it,” he said later.

When asked about his lead­er­ship, he denied be­ing a mi­cro-man­ager. “I del­eg­ate enorm­ous au­thor­ity to my staff.” That’s a line, we’d ima­gine, that’ll be com­ing up a bunch if the gov­ernor does de­cide to run for 2016. But he also was un­clear about the ex­tent to which Kelly had au­thor­ity over policy is­sues. “My un­der­stand­ing of Brid­get’s au­thor­ity,” Christie said, “was that it didn’t ex­tend in­to policy.”

Christie was ex­pli­citly asked about his think­ing on 2016. “I know that every­body in the polit­ic­al me­dia and in the polit­ic­al chat­ter­ing class wants to start the 2016 race”¦ my job is to be gov­ernor of New Jer­sey.”

The gov­ernor said that he is “con­fid­ent” that no one else cur­rently on his staff had “pri­or know­ledge” or in­volve­ment with the bridge clos­ures.

Christie said that be­fore yes­ter­day, he nev­er would’ve been able to pick Ft. Lee’s May­or Soko­lich “out of a line-up.” “I nev­er saw this as polit­ic­al re­tri­bu­tion, be­cause I didn’t think he did any­thing to us.” He ad­ded later: “Not only did I nev­er have a meet­ing with him. He was nev­er men­tioned to me…This can’t have any­thing to do with polit­ics. I don’t even know this guy.”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4652) }}

 “Ul­ti­mately, I am re­spons­ible for what hap­pens un­der my watch — the good and the bad and when mis­takes are made I have to own up to them,” Christie said. Asked if he’s done some “soul search­ing” over the last day, Christie said “you bet I have.”

Asked about a wo­man who died after emer­gency re­spon­ders were delayed by traffic on the bridge, Christie said that “it’s aw­ful. I’ve also seen con­flict­ing re­ports of cause of death or whatever, but it doesn’t mat­ter. It’s aw­ful to hear.” The gov­ernor said that he plans to go to Fort Lee later today to “apo­lo­gize per­son­ally, face to face.” “Hu­man be­ings are not per­fect,” Christie said. And he fol­lowed it up with the ever-clas­sic: “mis­takes are made.”

Oddly, at one point dur­ing the press ques­tion­ing, Christie was asked if his apo­logy ap­plies to mem­bers of the me­dia, too. Christie said it did.

The gov­ernor said he learned of the news while work­ing out yes­ter­day morn­ing. “I was blind­sided,” he said. “You can only ima­gine as I was stand­ing there in my bed­room with my iPad look­ing at that how in­cred­ibly sad and be­trayed I felt.” He ad­ded later: “I am a very sad per­son today.”

This press con­fer­ence was in stark con­trast to his re­marks on the is­sue be­fore the emails were re­vealed. For in­stance, con­sider this typ­ic­al Christie bom­bast when he was asked about the bridge con­tro­versy in Decem­ber. “Un­be­knownst to every­body, I was ac­tu­ally the guy out there,” the gov­ernor said, mock­ing the ques­tion. “I was in over­alls and hat, but I was ac­tu­ally the guy work­ing the cones out there. You really are not ser­i­ous with that ques­tion?” Con­tinu­ing on in his cava­lier man­ner, he said that Lor­etta Wein­berg and John Wis­niewski, rep­res­ent­at­ives in the state as­sembly, were “ob­sessed” with the is­sue be­cause “they really have noth­ing to do.”

Ac­know­ledging his past cone-re­lated com­ments, Christie said “I was be­ing led to be­lieve by folks around me that there was no basis to this”¦but I was wrong.” His of­fice will com­pletely co­oper­ate with any in­vest­ig­a­tion, he ad­ded.

As Ezra Klein points out, Christie’s staff of­ten mine such can­did mo­ments for You­Tube clips to bol­ster the gov­ernor’s no-non­sense im­age. That “bul­ly­ing” im­age def­in­itely doesn’t seem to be help­ing the gov­ernor now. Christie, of course, pushed back on that ex­act im­age. “I am who I am,” Christie said Thursday, “but I’m not a bully.”

“I don’t be­lieve I’ve lost the trust of the people of New Jer­sey,” Christie said to­wards (pre­sum­ably) the end of the press­er.

What We're Following See More »
McConnell Urging Rubio to Run for Reelection
40 minutes ago

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: "One of the things that I’m hoping, I and my colleagues have been trying to convince Senator Marco Rubio to run again in Florida. He had indicated he was not going to, but we’re all hoping that he’ll reconsider, because poll data indicates that he is the one who can win for us. He would not only save a terrific senator for the Senate, but help save the majority. ... Well, I hope so. We’re all lobbying hard for him to run again."

Holder: Snowden Performed a Public Service
3 hours ago

Former Attorney General Eric Holder said that NSA leaker Edward Snowden "actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made" by releasing information about government surveillance. Holder, a guest on David Axelrod's "Axe Files" podcast, also said Snowden endangered American interests and should face consequences for his actions. 

Bernie Hits Game 7
3 hours ago

Sen. Bernie Sanders, needing an improbable comeback to take the nomination from Hillary Clinton, showed up to the Warriors' Game 7 in Oakland during a break in California campaigning. "Let's turn this thing around," he told the San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garofoli.

Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
3 days ago

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
4 days ago

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.