In his first televised interview since the “Bridgegate” scandal broke, Gov. Chris Christie told ABC’s Diane Sawyer he does not recall a top official telling him of the George Washington Bridge lane closures last September.
“I don’t have any recollection of that,” Christie said in an interview held at his home in Mendham, N.J.According to an internal report commissioned by Christie, Port Authority of New York and New jersey executive David Wildstein said he flagged the traffic problems in Fort Lee to the Republican governor during a Sept. 11 memorial event. Wildstein’s assertions contradict Christie’s repeated claims that he was unaware of the plot.
“David was one of hundreds of people that I spoke to that day. We stood around and spoke briefly that day,” Christie said Thursday.
“I don’t have any recollection of him saying anything but I’ll tell you this. I’ll tell you what he didn’t say,” he continued. “He didn’t say ‘Oh by the way governor I’m closing down some lanes on the George Washington Bridge to stick it to the mayor. Is that ok?’ Uh that I’d remember.”
The report, released Thursday, concluded that the governor had no knowledge of the decision to shut down the two local lanes on America’s busiest bridge for four straight days. The report which was paid by New Jersey taxpayers exoernated the governor of any involvement of the traffic jams.
“Based on our investigation, we believe we have gotten to the truth: that Governor Christie knew nothing about the decision to realign these lanes beforehand,” said Randy Mastro, the lawyer leading the Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher team who conducted the investigation that took up over $1 million of taxpayer money.
Christie announced the launch of the investigation in January to ensure “something like that doesn’t happen again,” as he reiterated at a town hall last week.
Critics of the report’s findings have said that the law firm was hired by Christie’s administration to “whitewash” any charges or claims, but Christie quickly rejected the notion.
“First off, these are not my lawyers,” Christie said.
“There’s probably hardly a law firm in this area that I haven’t had some interaction with after being the United States Attorney. But the bottom line is that these people have their own professional reputations. Six of them are former federal prosecutors. They’re not going to white wash anything for me,” he said.
The Republican governor, who has been embroiled in the scandal since leaked emails between members of his administration and Port Authority executives indicated that the lane closures were plotted to target a Democratic political adversary, Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee. In all seven town halls and “Ask the Governor” radio programs, Christie has since denied any direct involvement or knowledge of the lane closures.
Diane Sawyer asked the governor about potential motives with the decision, whether it was an attempt for political payback against the Fort Lee mayor’s decision to not publicly endorse him during Christie’s re-election campaign or whether his staff members and appointees made the decision to “please” the governor.
“I can’t get into what their motivations were, except to say that anybody who really knows me would not believe that doing something inexplicably stupid would please me,” the governor replied.
The report states the same that the motives behind the action was unknown. “What motivated this act is not yet clear,” it says.
“Have you asked yourself, ‘Did I do anything to create this climate in which this happened,’” Sawyer asked.
“Sure, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 11 weeks thinking about what did I do, if anything, to contribute to this,” said Christie. “And I don’t believe that I did. But I certainly was disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to pick up these traits in these people. I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t look closer, that I trusted too much.”
Christie told Sawyer that the past 11 weeks have been the toughest time of his professional life and that while he has struggled, he will persevere.
“What’s happened in the past 10 weeks, I think, ultimately will make me a better leader, whether it’s the governor of New Jersey or in any other job that I might take in the public or private sector,” Christie said.
Although Christie admitted that the scandal has made his professional life more difficult, he will not resign from office.
“Never, never. I’m just not a quitter.”