New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday that he was “blindsided” by his senior staffers who orchestrated a seemingly petty scheme of political retribution in jamming one of the country’s busiest bridges last fall. The Republican governor apologized, saying he was “embarrassed and humiliated” by the controversy. He abruptly fired key staffers involved and made an emotional appeal asking for forgiveness. But in the almost two hours Christie spent trying to clear his name, the bombastic governor who once seemed invincible as a top 2016 GOP contender raised more questions than he answered about the growing "bridgegate" scandal.
What started "bridgegate" in the first place?
The story plays out as one of simple political payback. In retaliation to an apparent snub from Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who backed the gubernatorial candidate from his own party over Christie, the governor's aides instigated a traffic nightmare in Sokolich’s front yard.
But according to Christie, he doesn’t recall ever wanting Sokolich’s support. Christie said that his office pursued "hundreds" of endorsements from Democrats during his campaign and secured about 60 by the time of the election. He said he doesn’t even really know the guy. “Until I saw his picture last night on television, I wouldn't have been able to pick him out of a lineup,” Christie said of Sokolich Thursday.
Which raises the question: Why would Christie’s aides orchestrate such a scheme over an endorsement the governor didn’t care much about in the first place?
Does he even want to get to the bottom of the issue?
Christie says he felt betrayed after newly released emails revealed that Bridget Anne Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff, explicitly instigated "traffic problems in Fort Lee."
“I've terminated her employment because she lied to me,” Christie said Thursday. He went on to say that he did not even speak to Kelly before he fired her.
"I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since the email came out," Christie said. "And so she was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had. And I'm, quite frankly, not interested in the explanation at the moment."
Do we know for sure the scandal ends here?
Both federal and state officials are lining up to probe the cause behind the massive traffic jams last September. But for the weeks leading up to the most recent revelations, Christie repeatedly treated the issue as a joke. On Thursday, the governor said he learned his lesson after being proven wrong, and he said he would no longer unequivocally say that the bullying tactic went beyond the scope of what had come to light. However, there was one thing that he did say unequivocally: Port Authority Chairman David Samson didn’t know a thing about the scheme.
Documents released Wednesday told a different story.
According to email transcripts obtained by The Bergen Record, David Wildstein, a Christie-appointed executive at the Port Authority, recruited help from Samson when the scheme ran into a hiccup. “The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us retaliate,” an email sent from Wildstein to Kelly reads.
So we’re still going to blame the epic gridlock on a traffic study, and not petty politics?
Even after Christie fired one aide, accepted resignations from two more Port Authority appointees, and urged another to not place his name in the nomination for the state party chairmanship, the Republican governor suggested that the fiasco could have all boiled down to a simple traffic study.
"I don't know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study," Christie said. "I probably wouldn't know a traffic study if I tripped over it."
Why is Christie saying that his staffers keep on lying to him?
This isn’t the first time Christie has accused someone within his inner circle of lying to him. In 2010, Christie threw his education commissioner Bret Schundler under the bus for costing the state millions in botching New Jersey's "Race to the Top" application.
"Don't lie to the governor. That's the message," Christie said after firing Schundler. The former education commissioner fired back saying Christie "defamed" him and that he was always upfront with the governor about his application screw-up.