First there were revelations — and an apology from the New Jersey governor — that his aides had punished the mayor of Fort Lee by closing lanes that lead to the George Washington Bridge.
On Monday, Christie told a New Jersey radio host repeatedly that he knew nothing about any political issues behind the closures before Jan. 8, when he read the leaked staff emails in The Wall Street Journal.
“Let’s make one thing clear,” Christie said. “The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close these lanes, did I authorize it, did I know about it, did I approve it, did I have any knowledge of it beforehand. And the answer is still the same. It’s unequivocally, no.”
Christie, appearing on the Ask The Governor radio show, made his first comments on the closures since his two-hour-long news conference on Jan. 9. As Mark wrote at the time, the governor said he was “embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some people on my team.”
Before Jan. 8, Christie said Monday, “This was not an issue,” he said. “There’s traffic every day. … I hear those reports on the radio; we all hear about them. That’s not something that rises to the gubernatorial level.”
Christie said the issue has turned into “a game of gotcha.”
One of his aides, Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, was fired for her role in, in Mark’s words, “what looks to have been a dirty trick that led to four days of horrendous traffic jams on New Jersey’s side of the major route into New York City.” Christie later visited Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to apologize.
It’s unclear how the scandal has hurt the Republican governor, who is widely seen as a potential contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016. Senior Republicans have said they support him, and Christie, the head of the Republican Governors Association, will speak along with other potential GOP presidential candidates at the Conservative Political Action Conference next month near Washington. (He was denied a speaking slot last year.)
In an interview with NPR on Sunday, Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said the scandal could damage the moderate Republican’s chances in 2016.
“If nothing comes out of this, [Christie] can rebuild from this, but it’s going to take some time [even] if there’s no evidence,” he said.
Meanwhile, the AP reported that a “special legislative investigative committee said … it had begun receiving documents it requested in response to 20 subpoenas it issued last month. It’s trying to unravel how high up Christie’s chain of command a lane closing order went in September and whether the operation was meant to punish” Sokolich.
“In a request to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, Christie’s campaign organization asked for permission to raise more money and to spend it on lawyers handling subpoenas issued by both legislative investigators and the U.S. attorney’s office.
“The campaign has already spent all but $13,000 of the more than the $12.2 million limit for Christie’s re-election. Without more money, the campaign said it would not be able to answer the subpoenas.
“Neither subpoena suggests the campaign ‘has engaged in wrongdoing,’ the campaign’s lawyers said in their request.
“A hearing before the election commission was set for Feb. 11.
“Subpoenaed information was due to lawmakers Monday and federal prosecutors on Wednesday, but the campaign said it has requested extensions.
“Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the co-chairman of the joint legislative panel leading the investigation, told The Associated Press that some deadline extensions were granted. The requests of others who were asked to produce documents on a rolling basis were also being considered.”