New Jersey governor says he will co-operate with inquiries into ‘Bridgegate’

Controversy over politically motivated lane closures overshadows Chris Christie’s annual state speech

New Jersey governor Chris Christie opened his state of the state address with an apology and a vow to fully co-operate with “all appropriate” investigations of an apparent scheme to cause massive traffic jams. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

New Jersey governor Chris Christie opened his state of the state address with an apology and a vow to fully co-operate with “all appropriate” investigations of an apparent scheme to cause massive traffic jams. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 01:00

Republican Chris Christie has said he will co-operate with “all appropriate inquiries” into the “Bridgegate” political scandal as the controversy overshadowed his annual parliamentary address as New Jersey governor.

At the outset of his state of the state speech to New Jersey’s parliament, Mr Christie addressed the controversy that forced him to dismiss two senior aides, saying “the last week had certainly tested this administration”. He admitted mistakes were “clearly made”.

“As a result, we let down the people we were entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better, much better,” he told a joint session of New Jersey’s state legislature in Trenton.

“Now I am the governor and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch, both good and bad. Without a doubt, we will co-operate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure that this breach of trust does not happen again.”

Without referring to the politically motivated lane closures that caused traffic gridlock in September, Mr Christie focused on his policies, including plans to lengthen the school year in New Jersey.


Controversy
He touched on the controversy at the outset as if it was a scandal inflicted on his administration rather than created by staff within his office. Mr Christie has claimed he knew nothing of the politically-driven lane closures.

“I also want to reassure the people of New Jersey today that what has occurred does not define us or our state,” he said, making his first public comments on the scandal in five days.

“This administration and this legislature will not allow the work that needs to be done to improve the people’s lives to be delayed for any reason,” he added, to a standing ovation from the assembly.

“I am always determined to do better,” said the pugnacious politician, who was until last week the frontrunner to be the next Republican presidential candidate.

Mr Christie fired his deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and severed ties with campaign adviser Bill Stepien last week after emails and text messages showed they were behind the lane closures in an apparent act of political retribution against a Democrat mayor for not supporting Mr Christie’s re-election.


Investigation committee
The New Jersey assembly stepped up the parliamentary inquiry into the scandal by appointing a special investigations committee. Led by a Democratic assemblyman, the committee will have powers to subpoena witnesses and records.

The closure of two of three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee on the New Jersey side of the bridge caused four days of traffic jams between September 9th and 13th.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Mr Kelly wrote to David Wildstein, an official with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, in August after Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, refused to endorse Christie’s re-election bid. “Got it,” replied Mr Wildstein.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Mr Christie’s popularity has fallen to the lowest level since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when his response to the devastating storm brought him to national prominence.

A local New Jersey poll by Monmouth University and Asbury Park Press put Mr Christie’s approval rating at 59 per cent, down from 65 per cent in December, a month after his landslide re-election as governor.