New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie fired one of his top aides and apologized for his staff’s “stupid” behavior in an attempt to limit damage over charges that his administration engineered traffic jams as part of a political vendetta, which could now undermine his presidential prospects.
The escalating controversy could damage the governor’s national reputation and give opponents an opportunity to portray him as a ruthless bully.
“I am who I am. But I am not a bully,” Christie said during a lengthy news conference on Thursday.
Christie, who had previously said his staff had nothing to do with the lane closings in September that caused major backups at the George Washington Bridge, which links New York and New Jersey, said he fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly “because she lied to me” when he demanded weeks ago that anyone who knew anything about the episode come forward.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” he said as he addressed the widening scandal that could cast a shadow over his expected run for the White House in 2016.
The famously blunt Republican fielded dozens of questions from reporters with uncharacteristic patience during a nearly two-hour press conference.
Kelly was the latest casualty in the scandal. Two other top Christie appointees have resigned in the past few weeks.
The investigation broke wide open on Wednesday with the release of e-mails and text messages that suggested that Kelly arranged the traffic jams to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
The political-payback allegations turned a local traffic furor into a national issue and raised questions about Christie’s leadership and integrity as he lays the groundwork for a White House bid. Democrats at the national level have seized on the scandal as more evidence that Christie is a bully.
Christie said he is still looking into the traffic-jam episode and will take action against other senior staff members if it is warranted.
The chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey, US Attorney Paul Fishman, said he is “reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated.”
The US Legislature is also investigating. Using public resources for political ends can be a crime.