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Chris Christie fires aide, apologizes for traffic jams

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. AP Photo

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. AP Photo

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.  Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walks to the podium before a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.  Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walks to the podium before a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.  Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.  (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

  • A car uses an onramp to the George Washington Bridge toll plaza in Fort Lee, N.J.,  Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. The onramp was closed for three days in September 2013 snarling traffic at one of the world's busiest bridges, which links New Jersey and New York City. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faces political fallout over the traffic jam that caused hours-long backups for commuters and others as children started the school year.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

    A car uses an onramp to the George Washington Bridge toll plaza in Fort Lee, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. The onramp was closed for three days in September 2013 snarling traffic at one of the world's busiest bridges, which links New Jersey and New York City. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faces political fallout over the traffic jam that caused hours-long backups for commuters and others as children started the school year.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gestures during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.  Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.  (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gestures during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday,  Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday,  Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. AP Photo
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.  Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walks to the podium before a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.  Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.  Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.  (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
  • A car uses an onramp to the George Washington Bridge toll plaza in Fort Lee, N.J.,  Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. The onramp was closed for three days in September 2013 snarling traffic at one of the world's busiest bridges, which links New Jersey and New York City. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faces political fallout over the traffic jam that caused hours-long backups for commuters and others as children started the school year.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gestures during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.  Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.  (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday,  Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday,  Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his top aides yesterday and apologized over and over for his staff’s “stupid” behavior, insisting during a nearly two-hour news conference that he had no idea anyone around him had engineered traffic jams as part of a political vendetta against a Democratic mayor.

“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 and at times a sorrowful tone.

Christie, who had previously assured the public that his staff had nothing to do with the lane closings in September that caused major backups at the George Washington Bridge, 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.

The gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J., delayed emergency vehicles, school buses and countless commuters for four days.

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 Wednesday, with the release of emails and text messages that suggested Kelly arranged the traffic jams to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election.

In other developments:

∎ The chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, said he is “reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated.” The state legislature is also investigating. Using public resources for political ends can be a crime.

∎ David Wildstein, a Christie appointee who resigned from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after being implicated in the scandal, was found in contempt yesterday by a legislative committee after he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions. The Port Authority operates the bridge.

∎ Christie traveled to Fort Lee later in the day and apologized in person to Mayor Mark Sokolich.

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.

The governor brushed off questions about the effect on his presidential prospects, saying he was too busy governing the state to think about that.

“I am absolutely nowhere near beginning that consideration process,” he said. “I haven’t even been sworn in for my second term yet.”

Afterward, some political analysts on both sides of the aisle said Christie would probably pull through okay – provided there are no more surprises.

Democratic operative David Axelrod complimented Christie for handling the news conference “as well as he could,” writing on Twitter: “Unless smoking gun turns up tying him to scheme, or others arise, he lives 2 fight another day.”

Besides firing Kelly, Christie cut ties to former campaign manager Bill Stepien, asking him to withdraw a bid to become the next state GOP chairman. The governor said he was disturbed by the “callous indifference” displayed by Stepien in the emails released Wednesday.

Stepien had widely been seen as a potential campaign manager for Christie if he runs for president.

Christie said he is still looking into the traffic-jam episode and will take action against other senior staff members if it is warranted.

Over and over, Christie took responsibility for the affair by virtue of his role as governor, while simultaneously blaming his staff for doing something “stupid” and for not telling him the truth when he asked.

He said he saw the emails and text messages for the first time Wednesday, and was “blindsided” by what he read and outraged by the callous language. He said he was left “heartbroken” and “betrayed” by his tight-knit circle of advisers.

“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution,” Christie said of the lane closings. “And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”

Kelly hasn’t commented. Christie said he hadn’t spoken to her or asked to hear her side of the story since the emails were released, saying he didn’t want to be accused of trying to influence a possible witness.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in August in a message to Wildstein.

“Got it,” Wildstein replied. A few weeks later, Wildstein closed two of three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge, which runs between New Jersey and New York City and is one of the busiest spans in the world, crossed by more than 100 million vehicles a year.

In the back-and-forth emails and text messages that followed, Christie loyalists gloated over the traffic jams and called the Fort Lee mayor “an idiot” and “this little Serbian.”

For weeks, Christie had asserted that the closings were not punitive, but part of a traffic study, and that no one on his staff was involved. Yesterday, he acknowledged that was a lie, that his staff misled him. He said he still has no idea whether there even was a traffic study.

Christie said he believed his staff in part because he had never heard of Sokolich and had no idea the Christie camp was even seeking the Democrat’s endorsement.

Still, the governor said: “I am responsible for what happened. I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short.”

Related

Ray Duckler: Is Christie creating a smoke screen in Fort Lee?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yesterday morning, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stood in front of a pack of hungry media members and essentially said this to his deputy chief of staff and others close to him: “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Then, with customary political polish, Christie added that he, himself, takes responsibility for the scandal that had talk show hosts salivating as they … 46

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