TRENTON, N.J. — Moving quickly to contain a widening political scandal, Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his top aides Thursday and apologized repeatedly for the “abject stupidity” of his staff, insisting he had no idea anyone around him had engineered traffic jams to get even with a Democratic mayor.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” the Republican governor said at an extraordinary news conference in which he patiently took questions from reporters — and answered in his typically blunt fashion — for nearly two hours.
Christie, who had previously assured the public that his staff had nothing to do with the lane closings in September that caused major backups at the George Washington Bridge, said he fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly “because she lied to me” when he demanded weeks ago that anyone who knew anything about the episode come forward.
Kelly was the latest casualty in a scandal that threatens to upend Christie’s second term and his expected run for president in 2016. Two other top Christie appointees have resigned in the past few weeks.
The investigation broke wide open on Wednesday, with the release of emails and text messages that suggested Kelly arranged the traffic jams to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election. The gridlock delayed emergency vehicles, school buses and countless commuters for four days.
In other developments:
— The chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, said he is “reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated.” The Legislature is also investigating. Using public resources for political ends can be a crime.
— David Wildstein, a Christie appointee who resigned from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after being implicated in the scandal, was found in contempt Thursday by a legislative committee after he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.