New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that he was outraged after learning — he said for the first time — that his administration purposely caused a traffic jam that clogged streets in a town at the foot of a major bridge into New York City to punish a mayor who refused to endorse him for re-election.
Emails unearthed by NorthJersey.com contradicted Mr. Christie’s claims that his administration had nothing to do with the unfolding George Washington Bridge scandal, and sent the tough-talking Republican into damage control.
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” he said in a late-afternoon statement after the scandal percolated for most of the day. “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.”
Mr. Christie previously insisted that the traffic jams in Fort Lee and the surrounding New Jersey communities should be blamed on a mishandled traffic study.
The 51-year-old, though, acknowledged Wednesday that he had been duped and said those responsible would be held accountable.
“One thing is clear: This type of behavior is unacceptable, and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better,” he said. “This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”
Democrats in the state Legislature said the scandal means either Mr. Christie was lying or his administration was running out of control under his nose.
The scandal emerged two months after Mr. Christie won re-election in a landslide over Democrat Barbara Buono, giving him a springboard for an anticipated 2016 presidential run.
“This will be his first real 2016 test for Christie, and how he handles it could be a real indicator of whether he is ready to make a serious bid for the White House moving forward,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Allegations of bare-knuckle politics may be par for the course in New Jersey, but it’s not something that the American electorate can easily wrap its head around, particularly in this era of highly partisan, petty politics.”
The bridge scandal has been bubbling for months — thanks in part to the idea that the Christie administration was seeking retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not backing the governor for re-election.
NewJersey.com reported Wednesday that it had obtained a series of emails and text messages that linked Bridget Anne Kelly, one of Mr. Christie’s three deputy chiefs of staff, and Christie-backed officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the unexpected lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Mrs. Kelly wrote Aug. 13, about three weeks earlier, to David Wildstein, a Christie ally and executive at the Port Authority.
Mr. Wildstein, who ordered the closures and has since resigned, responded, “Got it.”
Some of the lanes were closed Sept. 9, the first day of school. Local law enforcement and elected leaders in Fort Lee said they were not given a heads up about the closures, which clogged their streets for four days, including during the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.