Christie: No recollection of aides telling of GWB lane closures
With two of his former aides found guilty of political payback at the George Washington Bridge, Governor Christie turned to a national audience Monday to again profess his lack of knowledge about it and insist that the 2013 lane-closure scheme does not reflect his leadership.
In a partial interview with Charlie Rose that aired Monday morning on CBS, Christie said that the Friday guilty verdicts against Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni “confirmed what I thought” on Jan. 9, 2014. That’s the day after The Record published an email written by Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff, calling for “traffic problems in Fort Lee” that prosecutors say was an order to reduce access lanes to the bridge in Fort Lee.
Baroni, then the deputy executive director of the Port Authority, was in on the scheme with Kelly, the jury found. His former deputy, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty in the case and told prosecutors that the lane reductions were intended as punishment to Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election. Besides those three, Christie’s political mentor, former Port Authority chairman David Samson, has admitted to bribery in a separate investigation related to the lane-closure scandal. Christie’s former transportation commissioner, Jamie Fox, remains under indictment for his alleged role in the bribery scheme with Samson.
Christie has maintained he had no knowledge of the traffic plot until it came to light in January 2014. But six people testified at the trial - including his top strategist, another deputy chief and his lead spokesman - that he was told of his staff’s involvement before then.
And Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein all said in the trial that Christie was told of the lane closures as they happened. Christie, who sat down with Rose for the interview in his Mendham home Sunday, said he specifically has “absolutely no recollection” of a conversation outside the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, 2013, the third day of the lane closures. Wildstein, who grew up with Christie, testified that Baroni told the governor of the traffic and the mayor’s calls for help and laughed.
“If they would have told me that, Hey we’re creating traffic at the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the mayor for not endorsing you, I would have remembered that. And they never said that,” Christie said.
The full interview with Rose is schedule to air at 7 p.m. on Bloomberg.
The trial pulled back the curtain on an administration where workers relentlessly sought to please the governor and portray him in the best light ahead of his 2013 victory. And it showed in evidence and testimony how others not charged in the case - such as his former deputy and campaign manager Bill Stepien - aggressively courted Democratic officials with gifts, meetings with the governor and items from the Port Authority “goody bag,” such as tours of the new trade center.
But Christie — even after four of his aides have been found guilty of various misdeeds and another remains under indictment — brushed off the guilty verdict as an reflection of his leadership and laid the blame on Kelly. He said he has had 25 people serve on his senior staff over his seven years as governor and “I had one person who didn’t get it.”
“I don’t think it says anything about me. I think it says everything about that person,” Christie said, calling the plot “one of the most abjectly stupid things I’ve ever seen.”
Christie’s popularity has suffered in the fallout of the scandal. Even his friend Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, insisted during the primary campaign, when Christie was still running, that the governor “totally knew” about it. Christie has acknowledged that the scandal had some impact on Trump’s decision to bypass him for his running mate.
Christie, the former prosecutor for New Jersey, turned to an old foil, the media, saying his precipitous drop in popularity was due to negative press coverage and an inability to defend himself.
“If the media and others attack you relentlessly for three years and you cannot defend yourself because you are in the middle of cooperating in the judicial process and cannot stain that process - then if there’s only one line of information, then people will believe the line of information they’re being given,” Christie said. “Their conclusion is a snapshot in time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told my political career was over. Here I am.”