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Christie apologizes for bridge traffic-jam

Jan. 9, 2014 at 2:28 PM   |   Comments

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FORT LEE, N.J., Jan. 9 (UPI) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized Thursday for the George Washington Bridge traffic jam and fired a top aide who allegedly orchestrated it.

"I'm heartbroken and incredibly disappointed. ... I'm just stunned," said Christie, adding he does not understand why Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly thought it was OK to engage in such shenanigans and then lie to him about it.

Emails and texts, made public Wednesday, show Kelly urged longtime Christie friend David Wildstein, who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge, to create "traffic problems" in Fort Lee for Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had not endorsed Christie's re-election.

Wildstein, who appeared at a legislative hearing Thursday, imposed lane closures leading to the bridge's toll barrier that created auto gridlock in the town across the Hudson River from New York City.

Town officials said school buses and emergency vehicles were severely delayed in some instances, the Record of Hackensack, N.J., reported.

Wildstein, after failing to convince a judge to quash a subpoena, asserted his Fifth Amendment rights in an appearance before the New Jersey General Assembly's Transportation Committee Thursday, the Hill reported.

Christie said he doesn't care why Kelly and Wildstein engaged in the scheme.

"Frankly, I'm not interested in an explanation," Christie told a news conference.

Christie said the action was "unacceptable" and he knew nothing about it until he saw the emails and texts in a newspaper Wednesday. Before that he said he thought the traffic jam had to do with a traffic study.

"It's still my responsibility," Christie said. "I didn't know about it but it was my responsibility."

In an interview on CNN Wednesday, Sokolich, a Democrat, called the revenge scheme "the lowest, most venomous form of political retaliation. ...

"And this in a time when New Jersey needs this like we need a hole in the head," Sokolich said. "We've now ensured that we're going to remain the butt of every political joke for the next 20 years on political misconduct."

A text-message exchange on the second morning of the closures mocked concerns about school buses filled with students stuck in the gridlock.

"I feel badly about the kids," one text read.

"They are the children of Buono voters," Wildstein wrote, referring to state Sen. Barbara Buono, Christie's Democratic opponent in the race for governor.

Christie said Wednesday he didn't know of his staff's involvement and alleged he was misled.

He canceled a public appearance but issued a statement saying he considered his staff's behavior "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," his statement said.

"One thing is clear: This type of behavior is unacceptable, and I will not tolerate it 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," Christie's statement said.

Before the release of the emails and tests, Christie dismissed allegations anyone in his administration was involved in the decision to close the bridge lanes.

Wildstein and another top Christie-appointed Port Authority staff member resigned in December after port officials testified in a legislative hearing the men had sought to hide their plans for the lane closings from Fort Lee officials, police and even other Port Authority officials.

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