Chris Christie wants your pity. He is just a poor humble ex-investigative attorney and strongarm governor who had no idea his closest advisors planned a four-day traffic jam for political retribution, because, geez, he asked everyone if they were involved, and they said no, and man, that makes him "sad."
"I am sad that I've been betrayed by a member of my staff... I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution," Chris Christie said of Bridgegate in a press conference today, as predicted—just before expressing shock at his deputies' involvement in the scandal, announcing firings, and alternating between denials of complicity and professions of personal responsibility. "I was blindsided yesterday morning… that was the first time I knew about this," he said.
Christie said he thought traffic out of Ft. Lee, New Jersey, onto the George Washington Bridge was stopped for four days in September because of a traffic study, not to get back at the city's mayor, Mark Sokolich—a Democrat who endorsed Barbara Buono, Christie's opponent, in the governor's re-election bid this year. "Mayor Sokolich was never on my radar screen," he said. "I never saw this as political retribution because I didn't think he did anything to us."
But when residents and journalists started asking Christie about his administration's rumored involvement in the closure months ago, he responded publicly with jokes and dismissals. And rather than launch an internal investigation to find the truth, he said today that he had merely asked his staff if they knew anything about the allegations. They said no.
"I had no reason to believe they weren't telling me the truth," said Christie, who from 2002 to 2008 was the United States attorney for New Jersey, a job in which he was paid by the federal government to dig beyond the statements of accused fraudsters and arms traders to determine their guilt and innocence—and was occasionally accused of entrapping perps in the process.
"The emails that I saw for the first time yesterday morning…prove that that was a lie," Christie said, referring to emails obtained by the New York Times that appear to show his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, had called for "a traffic jam in Ft. Lee"; his Port Authority appointee and high school classmate, David Wildstein, had set the traffic snarl into motion and dismissed kids stuck on school buses as "the children of Buono voters"; and that Bill Stepien, the head of Christie's re-election campaign and the soon-to-be head of the state Republican Party, worked with Wildstein on damage control.
"There's no justification for that behavior," Christie said today. "As a result I've terminated Bridget's employment immediately this morning." He also asked Stepien to withdraw from consideration as the state GOP chair: "If I cannot trust someone's judgment, I cannot ask others to do so." (Wildstein, who spent Wednesday trying to quash a subpoena forcing him to testify on the scandal before the Legislature, resigned in December.)
"We're family, we work together and we tell each other the truth," Christie said of his staffers, before saying he was "heartbroken" that those aides hadn't told him the truth about the scandal. "I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short."
But Christie's appeal that he simply was betrayed by his underlings raises more questions about his administration:
- Why would several of Christie's closest associates work to exact political revenge on someone who'd screwed Christie and not let the governor know? There would be no incentive for them to risk their jobs or worse, unless they could get credit with the boss.
- If they really went rogue and screwed the motorists of Ft. Lee without the governor's sanction, where the hell did he get these people?
- How many more people like this does he surround himself with?
"You cannot have someone at the top of your political organization that you cannot have trust in," Christie said in his rambling, press conference. The governor mentioned "soul-searching" several times, though it was unclear whether the soul he was searching was his own, or his lieutenants', or somebody else's entirely.