New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, tried to unequivocally distance himself from a long-brewing political scandal that blew open Wednesday morning, following reports that despite his denials, top members of his staff sought political retribution by jamming up Garden State traffic near the busy George Washington Bridge.
A report Wednesday by New Jersey's The Record included emails from some of Christie's top staffers pressing for retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie's re-election bid. Christie was hoping to – and did – run up the score against his Democratic opponent in the blue state to bolster his cross-party appeal ahead of a potential 2016 presidential bid.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Bridget Anne Kelly, a senior staffer, wrote to David Wildstein, a Christie official at the Port Authority, in August, prior to the closures, according to The Record.
"Got it," Wildstein responded. He later resigned amid the growing political furor.
The Record also revealed documentation showing involvement by other top Christie staffers, including Port Authority chairman David Samson ; Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager and now state Republican chairman; and Michael Drewniak, Christie's spokesman.
Christie, in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, said he only learned of the political hardball through the media report.
"I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge," he said. "One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."
Christie is best known for his supposed straight-talking, brash style and has been seen as a potential leading presidential candidate for a party struggling to find broad appeal among independent and minority voters. He recently took over as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and has highlighted his success among women, Hispanic and African-American voters as a model for other Republicans.
Yet he has also been dogged by reports in his home state that he is a political bully who punishes those who disagree with him.