During testimony before New Jersey lawmakers on Tuesday, a former aide to Gov. Christie insisted he was “dumbfounded” when he heard about the plot by some of the Republican’s staffers and allies to cause traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge – seemingly for political retribution.
Matt Mowers, a former staff member of Christie’s campaign team who now serves as the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party, said he had no involvement or knowledge of the scheme.
“I sit here dumbfounded and disappointed that the actions seemingly taken by a few rogue individuals have tainted the good work that so many have done on behalf of the residents of New Jersey,” said Mowers to the state legislative panel, which is trying to determine who ordered the September lane closures and why.
Mowers is the third individual to testify in front of the committee. Christie has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of the plan and has since fired his deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and cut ties with former adviser Bill Stepien after emails were made public showing Christie’s inner circle was indeed involved.
There is a separate, federal investigation into the scandal, which is threatening to derail Christie’s potential 2016 presidential run.
Mowers began working for the governor in 2010. An internal review – ordered by the governor’s office – said Mowers had met with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to discuss a potential endorsement for Christie. Part of his job was wooing mayors in the northern part of the state for 2013 re-election endorsements. Critics insist the traffic jams were enacted to punish Sokolich, a Democrat, for not backing the mayor in his re-election bid.
Mowers said he did not pursue Sokolich after he declined to back the governor. “Upon passing this information to others, no one I spoke with seemed overly interested or concerned,” said Mowers.
Like Mowers, the two other Christie administration officials who testified, Christina Renna, who headed the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the governor’s spokesman Michael Drewniak, denied any involvement or knowledge in the plot.
Christie is insisting the scandal won’t affect his 2016 ambitions and that he will make a decision at a “later” date. He told CBS News’ Bob Schieffer at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s annual fiscal summit earlier this month: “I’m not the first chief executive who had someone on their staff do something they didn’t know something about they disapproved of and later had to fire them. I don’t think that that hurt anybody’s career and it’s not going to hurt mine.”
Christie, who once led the nascent pack to the his party’s presidential nominee, has slipped to fourth place behind Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average of polling data surrounding the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
He’s not faring well in the Garden State, either. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed 41% of New Jersey voters disapprove of his job performance. And the majority – 63% – said Christie’s own internal review was not objective. Just 22% believe Christie’s explanation of what happened.