New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s in big trouble, and he knows it. Yesterday morning, it was definitively revealed that his office helped orchestrate a massive traffic jam in Fort Lee, New Jersey leading onto the George Washington Bridge. Emails obtained by North Jersey paper The Record revealed that one of his top deputy chiefs, Bridget Anne Kelly, planned the traffic jam with David Wildstein, a Christie guy in the Port Authority. The whole thing was a harebrained revenge plot to get back at the mayor of Fort Lee for declining to endorse Christie’s re-election bid. As an added dose of awful, the traffic jam delayed EMS crews responding to at least four emergency calls; one was an unconscious 91 year-old-woman who later died of cardiac arrest at the hospital.
It looks bad. Real bad. Possible criminal charges bad, if New Jersey Democrats have anything to do with it; State Senator Ray Lesniak told CNN this morning he’s calling for a federal investigation. And, as Christie’s crew is almost certainly more worried about, it could harm the governor’s carefully crafted image of an affable, reasonable dude who plays well with others and gamely eats doughnuts on late-night talk shows. That could potentially sink any hopes he’d had of becoming president before he even launches a campaign.
Christie’s already issued a press release expressing shock and outrage over what his staff did, and carefully repeating that he knew nothing whatsoever about it. If you didn’t see it in our item yesterday, it reads, in full:
What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.
He’s also called a press conference for this morning, in which we are willing to bet real money he’ll do at least one of the following, probably all three:
1. Repeat he had nothing to do with the scheme.
2. Darkly hint — or say outright — that Kelly has been fired.
3. Promise a full investigation by his office, and to cooperate with any other state or federal investigation.
The press conference is scheduled to begin around 11 a.m. Here’s a livestream. Place your bets now.
Whew. A few highlights, in case you missed the presser:
– Christie said he’s fired Bridget Anne Kelly, effective immediately: “I’ve terminated her employment because she lied to me,” adding that there’s “no justification” for those lies. He added that he’d brought his senior staff together four weeks ago and gave them “one simple challenge: if there is any information that you know about the decision to close these lanes in Fort Lee, you have one hour” to inform his chief of staff or chief counsel. The governor added, “I told them that in an hour I was going to go out in a press confenrence and if no one gave me information to the contrary, I was going to say that no one on my staff was involved in this matter.”
– He said again (several times) that he knew nothing about the emails before they were uncovered in the Record, and pledged to continue questioning his senior staff to uncover any additional involvement. “If there’s additional information that needs to be disclosed, I will do so. If there’s additional actions that need to be taken, I will do so.”
– He called himself “heartbroken” by Kelly’s lies, adding that it goes against the “tight-knit,” familial atmosphere he’s created in his office. He segued immediately into an apology of sorts for the joke he cracked about the lane closures at a previous presser: “I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust. I would never have come out here four or five weeks ago and made joke about these lane closures if I had ever had an inkling that anyone on my staff would’ve been so stupid but to be involved, and then so deceitful as to not disclose the information of their involvement to me when directly asked by their superior.”
– Christie also responded to the remarks made in some of the leaked emails by his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien. Among other things, Stepien called Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich “an idiot” for complaining about the closures, to which Wildstein added, “It will be a tough November for this little Serbian.” (Sokolich is of Croation descent.)
Christie said Stepien’s remarks displayed “callous indifference,” adding: “Reading that, it made me lose my confidence in Bill’s judgment. You cannot have someone at the top of your political operation who you do not have confidence in. As a result, I’ve instructed Bill Stepien to not place his name in nomination for state party chairman. And he will not be considered for state party chairman. And I’ve instructed him to withdraw his consultancy with the Republican Governor’s Association.”
– In response to a question from a reporter, he also asserted that he didn’t recall anyone in his campaign every asking Mayor Sokolich for his endorsement. “I never saw this as political retribution, because I didn’t think he did anything to us.”
– Although he said he was “ultimately responsible” for everything that happens in the governor’s office, but stressed that really, he knew nothing about the traffic jam: “I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution. And 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 and it is not the way this administration has conducted itself over the last four years and not the way it will conduct itself over the next four. I will do everything in my power to assure the people of New Jersey that, and I thank them for their willingness to consider my apology.”
Christie added that he’d head to Fort Lee later today to apologize to Mayor Sokolich personally and to the people of the city.
– The govenor also rejected any suggestion that this incident proves he’s a big bully who steamrolls his political enemies. “I am not a focus-group-tested, blow-dried candidate or governor. And that has always made some people, as you know, uneasy,” he said. ” I am who I am. But I am not a bully. And I will tell you that the folks who have worked with me over a long period of time I believe would tell you I’m tough… but I’m willing to compromise. I’m willing to work with others.” He denied, too, that he’d taken any retaliatory action against Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who claimed yesterday that he’d had a number of meetings with state officials canceled after he, too, declined to endorse Christie.
At one point, Christie also added that he’s “just sick” and “stunned” over the revelations, but that he’s not angry just yet. “I’m sure I’ll get there.”
We have to add that although this story hasn’t yet been viral a day, already TomoNews, the Taiwanese animators who make satirical news animation, have turned it into a “Jersey Shore” parody video. Dear God.