New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a top Republican contender for the 2016 presidential nomination, Thursday said he is “embarrassed and humiliated” by emails and text messages that suggest a top aide deliberately created traffic jams last year to punish a political rival. Christie said he has fired her, and he apologised. It is being called the biggest test of his political career.
The massive traffic snarl at one of the world’s busiest bridges, which links New Jersey and New York City, caused hours-long backups for commuters and others as children started the school year.
The US attorney in New Jersey announced Thursday he is investigating the shutdown “to determine whether a federal law was implicated”.
Christie, a blunt, outspoken governor who has worked to create a pragmatic, bipartisan image and contrast it with a bitterly divided Congress, early on dismissed questions about the lane closures with jokes and denied that either he or his staff had been involved.
After the emails and texts were reported Wednesday, he cancelled public appearances and several hours later issued a statement saying he was “outraged and deeply saddened” by the revelations. He said he was misled by a key aide and he denied involvement.
Christie told reporters Thursday that he has fired that aide, saying she lied to him.
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“We fell short of expectations,” Christie said, adding that he was “stunned by the abject stupidity” shown in the incident. He said he is responsible for what happened and said he would to go to the affected town to apologise. “I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution,” he added.
Democrats at the national level swiftly circulated the news of the scandal, calling it more evidence that the potential Republican candidate for president in 2016 is a bully. Some conservative Republicans who have been stung by Christie’s comments in the past joined in. Even if Christie navigates this challenge quickly, it will almost surely come back to haunt him in a presidential run, said Republican operative Hogan Gidley.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s Christie’s policy that’s going to ultimately catapult or sink his campaign; I think it’s his personality,” Gidley said.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly wrote in August in a message to David Wildstein, a top Christie appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The authority is in charge of the heavily travelled George Washington Bridge.