Transcript: Press conference Q&A with NJ Gov. Chris Christie on the politically-motivated GW bridge lane closures – Part I

Part I – Partial transcript of press conference Q&A with Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey) on the politically-motivated closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge that snarled traffic and slowed emergency response time in Fort Lee for four days in September 2013: 

Question:
Governor, beyond the apology and the terminations that you’ve announced, what other steps – concrete steps – do you plan to take to [show] the people of New Jersey and the people of the country that you want to change the perception of what’s happened here and will that include working cooperatively with these investigations that are now moving forward? Because in the past, you’ve had some rather nasty words with the people who were heading them on.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
Yeah, well, I – and I apologized for that this morning, David, because I was being led to believe by folks around me that there was no basis to this. And so, you know – and let’s be fair there have been times when there have been investigations around here that have led to nothing, that have had no basis. But I was wrong. And so now, having been proven wrong, of course we’ll work cooperatively with the investigations.

And I’m going through an examination, as I’ve mentioned, to you right now. That’s what I’m doing. I’m going through an examination, talking to the individual people who work for me not only to discover if there’s any other information that we need to find but also to ask them how did this happen? You know, how did this occur to us?

I think – now, listen, as I said before, we – I have a tight knit group of people who I trust implicitly. I had no reason to believe they weren’t telling me the truth. It is heartbreaking to me that I wasn’t told the truth. I’m a very loyal guy and I expect loyalty in return and lying to me is not an exhibition of loyalty. And so, you know, I’m going to look into this personally. This is my responsibility, David, and so what steps we’ll take after that? If there are concrete steps beyond what I’ve done today, then we’ll certainly announce them and talk about them. If not, then I’ll just say, “Listen, I think we’ve gotten to the bottom of this and we’re going to move forward with a new team.” You know, I have a new team coming in as well who I’m trying to integrate now also in the next two weeks. So there’ll be a lot of actions going on around here.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
No, I’m not. I mean, listen, Kelly [sp], politics ain’t bing back. Everybody in the country who engages in politics knows that. On the other hand, that’s very, very different than saying that, you know, someone’s a bully. I have very heated discussions and arguments with people in my own party and on the other side of the aisle. I feel passionately about issues. And I don’t hide my emotions from people. I am not a focus group tested, blow dried candidate or governor. Now, that has always made some people, as you know, uneasy. Some people like that style, some people don’t.

And I’ve always said – I think you asked me a question the day after the election, “Are you willing to change your style in order to appeal to a broader audience?” and I think I said no because I am who I am but I’m 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 in the tone that we’ve set here that I’m willing to compromise, that I’m willing to work with others. And the campaign show with all of the folks who came from the other side of the aisle to support us, that if we weren’t willing to have relationship with those folks, it would have never happened that way.

So, I don’t believe that, Kelly, and I don’t believe the body of work in the last four years displays that.

Now, in this instance, the language used and the conduct displayed in those emails is unacceptable to me and I will not tolerate it. But the best I can do is when I see stuff like that to end it. And I know that won’t satisfy everybody but I’m not in the business of satisfy everybody; I’m in the business of trying to satisfy people who elected me governor.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
There was no one above Bill Stepien in the campaign. He was the campaign manager, so there was no one above Bill Stepien in the campaign.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
Yeah, but, Michael, their role in the campaign was not the day-to-day operation of the campaign. Bill Palatucci was the chairman of the campaign and he was essentially involved with fundraising. That was Bill’s main task. Mike DuHaime was the general consultant. He dealt with TV ads and mail pieces. So the day-to-day operation of the campaign…

Question:
[Inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
Yes, I’ve spoke with both of them. They were two of my discussions yesterday.

Question:
How confident are you that this tactic – that this bullying tactic, that this revenge tactic – did not go out beyond this incident?

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
Listen, Angie, I’m not going to – I’m smart enough now after this experience not to go out there and certify that unequivocally, okay? I don’t have any evidence before me as we speak that it went beyond this incident, but I can’t tell you that I know that for sure as to every aspect of everything because now I have to be much more circumspect about that. Prior to yesterday, I believed that if I looked someone in the eye who I worked with and trusted and asked them that I would get an honest answer. Maybe that was naive but that’s what I believed. So now I’m going and digging in and asking more questions. I can’t make a warranty on that…I don’t believe so but I can’t make a warranty on that and I won’t because when I did that four weeks ago, I wound up being wrong.

Question:
…You did not authorize…[inaudible]?

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
Absolutely not. No. And I knew nothing about this and until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure. But even then, I was told this was a traffic study. Sen. [Bill] Baroni testified that it was a traffic study. There still may have been a traffic study that now has political overtones to it as well. I don’t know the answer to that, Angie. I think we’re going to find out but I don’t know because Sen. Baroni presented all types of information that day to the legislature – statistics and maps and otherwise that seemed to evidence a traffic study. So why would I believe that anybody would not be telling the truth about that? I said that I think at the time.

…But the fact is that regardless of all that, you know, it’s clear now that in the minds of some people there were political overtones or political side deals on this and that’s unacceptable.

So whether there was a traffic study or not, I don’t know. It appeared that there was one based on what I saw in the testimony. But regardless of whether there was or wasn’t, there clearly were also political overtones that were evidence in those emails and other messages that were never, ever brought to my attention until yesterday.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
Well, listen, I am – there’s this, you know, kind of reputation out there of me being a micro-manager. I’m not. I mean I think if you talk to my staff what they will tell you is that I delegate enormous authority to my staff and enormous authority to my cabinet, and I tell them “Come to me with the policy decisions that need to be made, with some high-level personnel decisions that need to be made” but I do not manage in that kind of micro way, first.

Second, there’s no way that anybody would think that I know about everything that’s going on not only in every agency of government at all times but also every independent authority that New Jersey either has on its own or bi-state both with New York, with Pennsylvania, and with Delaware.

So what I can tell you is if people find that hard to believe, I don’t know what else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this, of the planning, the execution, or anything about it. And then I first found out about it after it was over. And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study, and there was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday that was brought to my attention or anybody else’s attention.

And so I understand why people would ask that question and I understand your question completely, but what I also want to tell the people is even with all that being said, it’s still my responsibility. I didn’t know about it but it’s my responsibility because I’m the governor. So I’m taking that responsibility and taking actions appropriate with executing the responsibility in accord with what the information is today.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey):
As I’ve said many times, when I was U.S. Attorney, I hated when politicians stood behind a podium and said this is what the U.S. Attorney should or shouldn’t do, and I’m not going to engage in that kind of conduct at all.

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