New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered a statement on Wednesday afternoon responding to revelations that a staffer may have been involved in a plan to exact political retribution on an opponent. In short, the statement reads: "She did what?"
Christie was responding to reports that emerged on Wednesday morning that Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, declared that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," shortly before the town was hit with unexplained and unannounced traffic back-ups. The mayor of the town had declined to endorse Christie's reelection.
Update, 5:40 p.m.: The Bergen County Record, which broke Wednesday's story, adds a new detail to the long-reported revelation that the traffic delays slowed emergency vehicles: one elderly woman later died.
His statement checks all of the boxes that a potential presidential candidate would need to check in order to try and stave off a sense of scandal.
What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable. 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. 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.
- He just learned about it. ("seen today for the first time", "without my knowledge")
- He is mad about it. ("I am outraged and deeply saddened")
- It was hidden from him. ("misled by a member of my staff")
- It shouldn't have happened. ("completely inappropriate")
- Someone will be fired. ("unacceptable", "I will not tolerate it", "people will be held responsible")
The only thing missing is an actual notarized document stating that Kelly has tendered her resignation. Bookmakers in Atlantic City probably have even odds on that happening before the weekend rolls around.
Part of Christie's strong response almost certainly stems from his prior dismissals of the issue. He's repeatedly joked that he himself moved the cones that closed several lanes leading onto the busy George Washington Bridge leading into Manhattan. Those sarcastic denials fit with his well-crafted image, but certainly aren't making these revelations easier.
There's still space for Christies opponents — both Democrats and conservative Republicans worried about his possible, more moderate candidacy — to question Christie's involvement. The precision of the denial and the fact that a staffer twice-removed from the governor felt empowered to make such a declaration offer a sense that this is far from over. And there are still two years for the issue to be explored before 2016 rolls around.
Update, 5:30 p.m.: Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich appeared on CNN to discuss the issue and Christie's statement. Punctuating his comments with a lot of "Lemme tell ya, Wolf"s, in true Jersey fashion.
As this story continues and as things begin to unravel … [this] has become more and more difficult to understand, more and more difficult to comprehend, and, frankly, more and more difficult to believe.
I'm actually rooting that the highest elected official in the state of New Jersey isn't involved in this. But I will tell you, I'm beginning to question my judgment.
"I always dismissed it as not being important enough," Sokolich said. "Who would possibly reduce themselves to closing lanes to the busiest bridge in the world?" Later, he offered harsher critique: "Absolutely the lowest level of political venom that you can even make up. I gotta tell you, I can't believe it."
Sokolich, who first declared his suspicion that the closures were politically motivated on the Thursday of the week of the closures, offered some insight into the rumor that the traffic changes were related to his failure to endorse Christie. "I don't recall a specific request to endorse," he said, "but the events that led up to all of this you can interpret to be somehow attracting me to endorse." He didn't endorse in part because he's a Democrat. But, he added, "I'm grateful to my instincts because they certainly have proven me to be correct."
The mayor suggested that the negative fall-out was two-fold. First, it continues the perception that New Jersey is home to dirty politics. And, second, he worried that once media attention moves away from the issue that Fort Lee would be subject to new retribution. "The folks that are responsible for this can no longer be in positions that they can cause this type of damage to other communities," he said.
"But I have a prediction. There will be resignations, and you'll hear that this was part of our career path and they were resigning anyway."