Sokolich on Wednesday called it “appalling” that the traffic jams appeared to have been deliberately created.
“Their job is to keep us safe and to make the right decisions and to make those decisions with venomous motivation is completely inexcusable to me,” he said.
Christie announced his plan to travel to Fort Lee at his Trenton press conference.
“I believe that all of the people who were affected by this conduct deserve this apology and that’s why I’m giving it to them,” he said. “Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch.”
The mayor rebuffed Christie’s visit, but the governor insisted he would go anyway. Christie said he was especially puzzled about his aides’ actions because he didn’t know his campaign had been seeking the mayor’s endorsement.
“This guy was never on my radar,” he said.
WATCH: ‘Ultimately, I Am Responsible’
As the controversy heated up over the past few weeks, Wildstein resigned, as did Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee.
Port Authority Chairman David Samson, who was appointed by Christie, issued a statement Wednesday saying he was “extremely upset and distressed” about the emails and text messages.
He said no one on the board had any knowledge of the lane closures until they received an email from Executive Director Patrick Foye ordering the lanes reopened.
The U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Paul Fishman, said Thursday he was “reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated.”
Wildstein refused to answer questions Thursday before a state Assembly committee, asserting his constitutional right to remain silent. A judge earlier refused to quash his subpoena.
Christie on Thursday said he also asked his choice for state GOP chairman, his former campaign manager Bill Stepien, to withdraw consideration for the post because of the “callous indifference” he displayed in emails on the traffic jams.
“It makes me ask about me: What did I do wrong to have these folks think that it was OK to lie to me,” Christie said.
Beyond the specifics of the lane closures, critics suggest the incident reflects a darker side of Christie’s brand of politics that contradicts the image he’d like to project as he eyes the presidency.
The governor repeatedly sidestepped criticism that he bullied adversaries in an overwhelming re-election victory in November.
“The governor had a 20-point lead. Why they needed to coerce the mayor of Fort Lee to make an endorsement by shutting his town down is beyond me. But it also speaks to a petty vindictiveness that seems to be part of the culture because if you look at some of these emails, there’s a callous disregard for what was going on,” said Wisniewski.
WATCH: ‘I Am Not A Bully’
“I am who I am, but I am not a bully and what I will tell you is that the folks who have worked with me over a long period of time would, I believe, tell you that I’m tough, but I’ve shown over the last four years and the tone that I’ve set here that I’m willing to compromise, that I’m willing to work with others,” Christie said Thursday.
In less than two weeks, he is scheduled to celebrate his second inauguration in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on historic Ellis Island, a symbolic beginning to a second term designed to expand Christie’s bipartisan appeal.
He also is expected to unveil his second-term priorities, solidifying his presidential resume, in a state-of-the-state address later this month, while beginning an aggressive national travel schedule as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Baroni, Kelly, Stepian and Wildstein are the first four heads to roll under the cloud of this scandal, Aiello reported.
In Fort Lee, residents reacted to the governor’s comments.
“I just think highly of Christie and I don’t think that he could have done anything else other than fire them,” one resident said.
“To think that one of his closest associates would even think of doing that, that doesn’t spell good for the boss,” said another man.
Kelly, 41, was not available for comment Thursday, but her Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as her personal email account, appeared to have been disabled.
She served as a chief of staff for Republican state Assemblyman David Russo before she landed a spot with Christie in 2010 – after he defeated incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine. She but she did not work on either of his gubernatorial campaigns.
Kelly was promoted to deputy chief of staff in April.
Shortly after Christie’s press conference wrapped up, the Democratic National Committee issued the following statement:
“For nearly two hours today, Chris Christie stood up and repeatedly made himself out to be the victim. He lauded himself for swift action in firing staffers for lying to him. And he argued that this was not reflective of the culture he’s created in his office,” the statement said. “But Chris Christie is not the victim. The people of New Jersey who trusted him are.”
The DNC blasted the governor, saying he “needs to focus less on his ego.”
“He didn’t take ‘swift action’. He ignored questions and responsibility for more than 120 days, until his administration was finally caught red-handed,” the statement went on.
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