New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has decided to fire his top aide Bridget Anne Kelly, who allegedly orchestrated traffic mayhem to pursue a petty political vendetta.
Chris Christie, who is seen as a potential Republican White House candidate, apologized for the scandal, which he said “embarrassed and humiliated” him.
The gridlock was allegedly engineered to punish a Democratic mayor who did not endorse the governor’s re-election.
Chris Christie denied all knowledge of the scandal and said he was misled.
“I’m embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” Chris Christie said on Thursday morning at the statehouse in the city Trenton.
The governor said repeatedly that he had nothing to do with the “callous and indifferent” lane closures.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution,” he said,
“And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
Chris Christie spoke as the US Attorney’s office for New Jersey opened an inquiry into the lane closures.
Emails and texts made public on Wednesday appear to link Bridget Anne Kelly to the closure of traffic lanes feeding to the George Washington Bridge, one of the world’s busiest, in September.
The move caused traffic chaos in the New Jersey borough of Fort Lee, whose mayor declined to back Chris Christie in last autumn’s gubernatorial election.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly wrote on August 13 to David Wildstein, a New Jersey political appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the span.
“Got it,” David Wildstein, a childhood friend of Chris Christie, replied.
On September 9, two of three traffic lanes to the bridge – a major crossing to New York City carrying some 300,000 vehicles on a typical day – were shut for several days.
The communications do not suggest that Chris Christie himself directly had anything to do with the lane closures, but they seem to contradict his previous assertions that none of his staff was involved.
Chris Christie and Port Authority officials initially said the decision to close the lanes was part of a traffic study.
On Wednesday evening, Mayor Mark Sokolich said the alleged skulduggery was “appalling”, adding that the ensuing gridlock had put people in danger by holding up emergency vehicles.
“It’s the example of the pettiest and most venomous side of politics,” Mark Sokolich told the Bergen Record newspaper.
Chris Christie postponed a morning event after the emails were released on Wednesday, later issuing a public statement saying he would not tolerate such behavior by his staff.
David Wildstein, who has since resigned, is due to testify under oath on Thursday before a state legislature committee investigating the matter.
Chris Christie has enjoyed high popularity in his home state, particularly after his response to Superstorm Sandy. But commentators are already suggesting the bridge scandal could tarnish his White House prospects.
“Chris in a jam” ran the headline in the New York Post.
Another tabloid, the New York Daily News, took a double swipe at Chris Christie’s weight and rumored political ambitions, writing: “Fat chance now, Chris.”
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