TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Chris Christie has once again reiterated that he had no prior knowledge of the George Washington Bridge closures, but said he started asking staff members to get more details about traffic jams in Fort Lee last year soon after they were over and he heard they were a source of contention.
That’s the account he gave Monday night on a radio show when he spoke publicly for the first time in more than three weeks about the political retribution scandal involving lane closures near the George Washington Bridge.
The gravity he now says he gave the issue last September stands in contrast to his account on Dec. 2, when he laughed it off.
“Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was in overalls and a hat,” he said then. “I actually was the guy working the cones.”
The scandal has engulfed Christie’s administration and threatens to upend future political ambitions for the Republican governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate.
He came under a new round of scrutiny last week after the lawyer for a former Christie ally wrote a letter saying “evidence exists” that Christie knew about major traffic jams caused by closing lanes approaching the bridge in Fort Lee, a plot said to have been undertaken for political retribution.
The lawyer for David Wildstein, who was Christie’s No. 2 man at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, did not give any other details about the evidence.
Christie’s office initially denied that he knew about the traffic problems until after they were over, pointing to several statements from the governor.
But on TownSquare Media’s “Ask the Governor” on Monday, Christie acknowledged for the first time that he may have been aware of the closures at the time. But he said that if he was, they did not get his attention.
Christie said an email from Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority, made him realize the traffic gridlock may not have been routine. That email was forwarded to a top Christie aide on Sept. 13, the day Foye hastily ordered the lanes reopened.
But Christie said what he learned when is not important. He dismissed the scrutiny over that detail as “a game of gotcha.”
“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?” Christie said. “And the answer’s still the same; it’s unequivocally no. And in fact, no one’s ever accused me of that.”
Christie was in Keansburg to announce new Sandy recovery funds on Tuesday, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported.
“We are doing the best we can, as quickly as we can to get it done,” the governor said.
Christie stood by a state commissioner also embroiled in another scandal. The commissioner and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno were recently accused by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer of threatening to withhold Sandy relief funds unless she fast-tracked a development project favored by Christie.
The commissioner and the Christie administration deny Zimmer’s claims, Sloan reported.
The majority of the Sandy victims at Tuesday’s event seemed to believe Christie.
“They’re trying. The government is trying,” Sandy victim Irene Neikam said.
But one man who tried to get his question in doesn’t share the same sentiment, Sloan reported.
“I wanted to ask him where is the Sandy grant money going,” Sandy victim Thomas Largey told Sloan.
Christie acknowledged during Monday’s radio appearance that his office received a subpoena from federal criminal investigators regarding the bridge scandal. He said he will comply with that one as well as a subpoena from a committee of state lawmakers looking into the scandal.
Monday was the deadline for the 20 subpoenaed people and entities connected to Christie to provide information to the legislative investigators.
The committee said it had received some information but several people and groups received deadline extensions. The co-chairman, Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said those who asked to produce documents on a rolling basis were being accommodated.
Christie said his office was among those handing over documents over time.
At least two people subpoenaed, former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and former campaign manager Bill Stepien, have said they will not cooperate with the legislative demands to avoid self-incrimination.
Sources told CBS 2 members of the legislative committee could start reviewing the documents that are in as early as Wednesday.
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