NEW YORK -- A contrite New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized Thursday and said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by the actions of his staff that closed busy access lanes of the George Washington Bridge in September, snarling traffic in a town whose mayor did not support the governor's reelection bid.
"I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey,” Christie said, at a Trenton press conference. "I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team."
Christie said he had fired Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff who apparently engineered the lane closures and said in emails: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Christie said she lied to him in connection with the growing scandal.
He also asked Bill Stepien, a close advisor, to not place his name in nomination for the chairmanship of the state Republican Party because Stepien, who also participated in some of the emails, expressed a tone that Christie said was “callous.”
Christie said he planned later Thursday to visit Fort Lee, the town just over the river from New York City, to apologize to its residents and to the town’s mayor, Mark Sokolich. On Wednesday, media reported that four separate emergency medical calls were delayed because of the traffic; one woman ultimately died, though her death was probably unpreventable, officials said.
Reporters at the news conference questioned how Christie could be unaware of his staff’s actions. He has a reputation for having a very close-knit staff. But he insisted that he had no knowledge of the lane closures, or even that Sokolich, had not endorsed him.
“I was blindsided yesterday morning,” he said.
He said he was just finishing a workout Wednesday morning when he received a call from his communications staff that a story in the Record, a New Jersey newspaper, had disclosed the content of the emails.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution,” he said. “I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover. This was handled in a callous and indifferent way.”
Christie's patient and quiet tone at the news conference, during which he took dozens of questions from reporters, was a marked difference from his usual blustery manner.
Christie said that he had assembled senior staff a month ago to question them about the lane closures, and told them that if anyone had information about the decision to close the lanes, they should tell him immediately. No one came forward, he said, and an hour later Christie held a news conference denying his office’s involvement.
Christie emphasized that the incident was an exception to his administration, and that it should not overshadow his accomplishments.
David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was set to testify in a hearing in the New Jersey Assembly about the incident later Thursday. His lawyers had filed documents questioning the Assembly’s ability to call him to testify, but a judge ruled that Wildstein must appear.
The New Jersey attorney general's office is also reviewing the lane closures.