New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is holding a news conference on Thursday to address revelations that a senior aide and two top political appointees forced days of traffic jams as apparent political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J.
The scandal is casting a cloud over the 2016 White House hopeful’s effort to cast himself as presidential and above the political fray.
After the news conference, leaders of the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly are holding a legislative hearing on the scandal.
Check here for the latest updates.
Christie’s news conference comes as some Democrats are calling for a federal investigation into the matter.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak on Thursday morning joined Christie’s 2013 opponent, fellow state Sen. Barbara Buono, in calling for the probe.
A New Jersey state senator said in an interview on CNN on Thursday that the federal government should investigate allegations that the administration of Gov. Chris Christie purposely blocked access to the busy George Washington Bridge as an act of political revenge.
A series of e-mails and text messages disclosed Wednesday show that deputy chief of staff and two of his top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed a pair of access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., onto the bridge into New York, causing days of gridlock and mayhem in the Fort Lee area in September.
Christie issued a statement denying any knowledge of the scheme, and is scheduled to take questions from reporters Thursday at 11 a.m.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D) told CNN’s “New Day” that the Justice Department should investigate. He cited local reports that the severe traffic jams impeded emergency services, and may have contributed to the death of an elderly woman who suffered a heart attack and had to wait for paramedics to arrive.
Will Christie strike a conciliatory note or take the same combative tone he took last month, in which he said the situation was “not that big a deal” and accused the media of sensationalism?
“Let’s not pretend that it’s because of the gravity of the issue,” Christie said then.
Here’s a taste of his comments from back then:
Here’s Christie’s brief statement from Wednesday afternoon — his only comment since the story of his staff’s involvement broke Wednesday morning.
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is 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. 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.”
New Jersey Democrats say the bridge incident is not an isolated example of the political tactics used by Christie’s administration. State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D) told The Washington Post on Thursday that Christie has created a “culture of vindictiveness.”
“This is the biggest scandal in New Jersey politics since ABSCAM,” Lesniak said. “People are finally recognizing how he and his staff come down on you like a ton of bricks, on legislators and elected officials, if you oppose them. This is just one of many, many times his officials have acted in this way.”
Lesniak said Christie must fire personnel or else he risks seeing his second term become terminally plagued by scandal. He says Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff involved in the matter, “certainly has to go.” “But it won’t be enough. A few people leaving won’t end it. This is going to continue until the whole truth comes out.”
Christie’s news conference will be held in the governor’s outer office at the state Capitol, in a large lobby near his private suite. The ornate room has been used in the past for momentous announcements during his gubernatorial years, most notably in October 2011, when he made it known that he would not seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
A New Jersey Republican official, speaking on background, said Christie’s team hopes the official setting will reinforce his commitment to address the issue and to do so in a nonpolitical way.
The U.S. attorney’s office is looking into the matter, reports the New York Times.
The Times homepage features this headline: “U.S. Attorney in New Jersey to Open Inquiry Into Lane Closures.”
The Washington Post has not confirmed the existence of an investigation.
Top Christie allies in the state legislature met in the state Capitol on Thursday morning. Two GOP aides told The Washington Post that Christie’s staff did not brief lawmakers on his plans. Internally, they were told to watch the news conference and then follow up with questions.
The lack of communication has startled some Republican senators, who complained, in background conversations with The Post due to the sensitive nature of the topic, that Christie was leaving them stranded and unable to help defend him in the media.
State Sen. Steven Oroho (R) told The Post that Christie needs to “get everything out now and take action” or else risk crippling his legislative agenda.
“We’re all surprised and disappointed by what we’ve read,” he said. “Republicans aren’t speculating beyond that. We want to see what happens next. But he needs to take action. The best thing would be to get it all out and get it over.”
Christie begins his remarks by apologizing to the people of Fort Lee, N.J., and anyone else affected.
He said “apologize” several times, but also again blamed his staff and said he was unaware of the problem.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my staff,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct they exhibited was completely unacceptable … “