Chris Christie, in Live Interview, Talks Bridgegate
Gov. Chris Christie, addressing the Bridgegate scandal in a live radio interview Monday night, said he wants the people of New Jersey to know, "I had nothing to do with this" and "I'm going to fix it." He also took a swipe at critics he said were engaging in "a game of gotcha."
Christie also disclosed that his office has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney's office in the case and is cooperating fully.
In his first appearance on the Townsquare Network's Ask the Governor program since Dec. 23, Christie was asked by host Eric Scott about the series of explosive developments that have followed, including revelations of emails showing his deputy chief of staff involved in the disruptive closing of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September as apparent political retribution and his own decision to fire her "because she lied" about the matter.
"I had nothing to do with this," Christie said, repeating earlier assertions about the lane closings several times Monday night. "No knowledge, no authority, no planning-- nothing to do with this before this decision was made to close these lanes by the Port Authority."
He added, "While I'm disappointed in what happened here, I'm going to fix it." He said his office has begun providing documents subpoenaed by the joint state legislative committee investigating the scandal and will do the same in compliance with the subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney. He also referred to the independent law firm he has brought in to conduct an internal investigation, saying: "I can't wait for them to be finished so I can get the full story here."
Asked to be specific about when he first became aware of the lane closings and the massive traffic disruptions they caused in the Fort Lee area last September, Christie referred to reports in the Wall Street Journal about the surprise and outrage expressed by Patrick Foye, the New York-appointed executive director of the Port Authority.
Foye, after an angry exchange of emails with his New Jersey counterpart, Bill Baroni, then the PA's deputy director, ordered the Fort Lee approach lanes reopened and vowed "to get to the bottom" of the closings.
Christie said the stories about Foye's complaints prompted him to ask his staff to look into the dispute and produced the explanation that the lane closings were part of a traffic study, an explanation rejected by Foye at the time and since undermined by the release of other documents.
Most damaging among those documents was an email exchange last Aug. 13, in which Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, wrote David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" and Wildstein repllied, "Got it." Other emails between the two suggested the lane closings were an act of political retribution against Ford Lee's mayor for failing to join other Democratic mayors in endorsing Republican Christie for re-election as governor.
Those emails became public earlier this month, forcing a dramatic two-hour press conference Jan. 8, in which Christie announced he had just fired Kelly "because she lied" about having no knowledge of the lane closing plan.
Christie insisted Monday night he still did not know whether "political shenanigans" had inspired a traffic study or whether an actual traffic study became an opportunity for such "shenanigans."
Wildstein, who resigned his Port Authority post in December, create a new ripple of trouble for the governor last Friday. A letter from his attorney, Alan L. Zegas' letter to the Port Authority, was published online by The New York Times and quickly picked up by other media. In it, Zegas referred to "evidence" he said would contradict Christie's claims that he had no knowledge of the lane closings until after they occurred.
Christie Monday night avoided any direct reference to Wildstein. His office had initially responded Friday by saying the letter did not contradict his assertion that he had no advance involvement or knowledge of the lane closings. A second response, emailed to Politico on Saturday, attacked Wildstein directly, saying: "Bottom line - David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein." The email also took aim at "David Wildstein's past," including newspaper accounts describing the governor's former high school classmate and Port Authority appointee as "tumultuous" and even referring to an incident in which Wildstein "was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior."
But the governor did aim an aside at mounting media coverage and political attacks accompanying the ongoing Bridgegate investigations, saying that while he was cooperating fully with the probes, he refused to let Bridgegate "dominate" his attention.
"I can't afford to allow this to dominate my time the way it dominates the time of some folks in the media and some partisans," Christie said. He said he was limiting his own focus on Bridgegate to determining what needed to be corrected, adding, "All this other stuff is just a game of gotcha -- when did I first learn about this or that."
Of Kelly, who is reportedly resisting subpoenas from the joint legislative committee, citing her constitutional rights against self-incrimination, Christie Monday said, "I know everything I needed to know from an employment standpoint from Bridget Kelly when she didn't tell me the truth and I fired her."
Wildstein appeared before the State Assembly Transportation Committee initially investigating Bridgegate on Jan. 8 but declined to give testimony, citing his constitutional protections against self-incrimination. Zegas, who represented him at the hearing, has repeatedly said his client would only discuss the lane closing plan if given immunity from prosecution.
Also last Friday, another key Bridgegate figure, speaking through his attorney, said he would not comply with a legislative subpoena. Kevin Marino, the attorney for former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien sent the joint state Senate and Assembly Bridgegate committee a letter citing Stepien's constitutional protections against self-incrimination and illegal search and seizure.
The committee co-chairs, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), later released a statement saying, “We just received Mr. Marino’s letter this afternoon. We are reviewing it and considering our legal options with respect to enforcing the subpoena.”
Wisniewski and Weinberg said they had also received a copy of the Wildstein letter from Zegas and were reviewing that as well.
Monday was the deadline for subpoenaed documents to be delivered to the joint legislative committee. Twenty subpoenas were issued by the panel, but several recipients asked for extensions and an undisclosed number of those requests have been granted, the co-chairs said. None of the documents received were made public Monday.
"The committee has begun receiving material responsive to its subpoenas, with more responses expected in the near future in a cooperative effort with subpoena recipients,” wrote Weinberg and Wisniewski. "Numerous extensions have been granted to subpoena recipients, as is typical in such situations. . . "No documents will be released today. The committee will announce its next step as soon as that course is decided."
Christie said Monday night that his office had not requested an extension and has begun providing documents to the committee."
Kevin McArdle also contributed to this report.
Monday, February 3, 2014 - Ask The Governor Audio (click the arrow to listen)