With eye on 2016, Christie blames staff for ‘Bridgegate’ scandal

AP photo

I’M SORRY: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered an apology Thursday for what has been dubbed “Bridgegate.”

By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog

Nearly three years before the 2016 election, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in damage control in an effort to save his unannounced campaign for president.

Trotting the Trenton two-step, Christie took responsibility Thursday for the Bridgegate scandal while squarely placing the blame on others. According to the governor, his chief misstep was trusting a hand-picked staff that lied to him.

“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here,” said Christie at a news conference. “This is not how the administration has conducted itself for the last four years — and not the way it will conduct itself for the next four.”

So heads rolled at the Statehouse, as a contrite Christie declared himself “embarrassed and humiliated,” then quickly cut his losses with an eye on the future.

The governor fired a key aide, severed ties with his top political adviser and apologized profusely for his office’s role in closing traffic lanes along the George Washington Bridge in September as an act of political revenge.

“Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Ann Kelly in a smoking gun email. Christie said he first learned of her role Wednesday. He fired Kelly Thursday.

Former Chief of Staff Bill Stepien also was road kill from the controversy that caused four days of massive tie-ups on the George Washington Bridge, a double-decked bridge spanning the Hudson River that connects the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan to Fort Lee in New Jersey. As a result, Stepien will not be the new chairman of the State Republican Committee and will lose his consulting gig with the Republican Governors Association.

As part of Christie’s public mea culpa, the governor said he planned to travel to Fort Lee to personally apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich. The lane closures were intended as political revenge against Sokolich, who refused to endorse Christie in the November election.

What remains to be seen is how the local scandal and Christie’s remedial maneuvers play to a national electorate that has so far smiled upon the bombastic governor in opinion polls.

A verbal slip at the news conference belied Christie’s presidential ambitions.

“I am not a focus group-tested, blow-dried candidate .. .or governor,” said Christie while expounding on the authenticity of his character. “I am what I am, but I am not a bully.”

The scandal is not likely to go away soon. New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman on Thursday announced an investigation into the lane closures. In addition, the Assembly Transportation Committee probe that subpoenaed the damning emails is expected to continue.

Contact Mark Lagerkvist at mlagerkvist@watchdog.org

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