TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday downplayed the closing of two approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge that prompted state and federal investigations and forced the resignation of his top two deputies at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
At a Statehouse news conference, Christie said the September lane closings that caused traffic backups in Fort Lee were “not that big a deal.”
He said partisan politics and the media being “obsessed” with reporting the story are keeping it alive.
This is the second time in a week Christie faced questions about the lane closings that some Democrats believe were executed to pay back a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse Christie for re-election. Christie has denied it.
Christie said he has no reason to doubt his appointees, who maintain the closings were for a poorly communicated traffic study. No evidence of a traffic study has been produced.
Christie repeated Thursday that he doesn’t remember ever meeting Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and says there was no reason for him to have been on Republicans’ radar as a potential endorser.
Christie won re-election by 22 points in November. His campaign actively courted Democrats to boost his bipartisan brand ahead of a possible 2016 presidential run.
Legislators in the state Senate and Assembly introduced a joint resolution Thursday calling on Congress to re-examine the organizational structure and operating procedures of the Port Authority and to take steps to end the dysfunctional practices that they say plague the bistate agency.
West Virginia Sen. Jay D. Rockefeller IV announced his intent this week to have the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee look into the lane closings. The Port Authority’s Inspector General and the Assembly panel are conducting their own investigations.
The lane closings that began on Sept. 9, the first day of school in Fort Lee, caused massive traffic tie-ups in the borough at the foot of the world’s busiest bridge. The local-access lanes were ordered re-opened after four days by authority executive director Patrick Foye.
Foye, appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, testified under oath in New Jersey that he had not been told about the lane closings before then.
The closings were ordered by David Wildstein, a onetime political blogger and high school friend of Christie’s, who the governor named to a newly created six-figure job four months after being inaugurated. He worked under Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, a former Republican state senator and Christie ally, who was considered Christie’s eyes and ears at the agency.
Both men have retained lawyers since resigning last Friday.
Christie named former federal prosecutor Deb Gramiccioni to succeed Baroni.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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