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
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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.

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