Chris Christie fires 2 top aides involved in politically-motivated GW bridge lane closures

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday fired two of his longtime top aides after emails released this week revealed their involvement in the politically-motivated closure of lanes on the George Washington bridge which snarled traffic in Fort Lee for four days in September.

“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for their appropriate role of government and for the people that we’re trusted to serve,” said Christie.

Christie, a potential presidential contender in 2016, fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and his gubernatorial campaign manager, Bill Stepien, after email and text messages showed that the GW bridge lane closures were ordered by the governor’s aides as political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who did not endorse Christie in his re-election.

The unexpected lane closures created traffic gridlocks in Fort Lee, forcing many children to be late for school and delaying emergency response time. According to NorthJersey.com, it took emergency responders 7 minutes to reach an unconscious 91-year-old woman. A letter from Fort Lee EMS coordinator Paul Favia to Mayor Sokolich noted that “paramedics were delayed due to heavy traffic on Fort Lee Road” and the elderly woman later died at a hospital.

At a press conference in early December, Christie denied his office’s involvement in the lane closures, even mocking a reporter’s question on the matter as absurd.

“I worked the cones, actually,” Christie said sarcastically. “Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there in overalls and a hat. You really are not serious with that question.”

Christie was forced to backpedal from his earlier denial after an email dated Aug. 13th from Kelly to David Wildstein, who was appointed by Christie to the Port Authority, stating “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” was made public.

“Got it,” Wildstein replied to Kelly.

“This morning, I’ve terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly, effective immediately. I’ve terminated her employment because she lied to me,” said Christie. “I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust.”

Christie explained that he had asked his chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, and chief counsel, Charlie McKenna, in December to interview his senior staff members to see if they knew any information about the decision to close the GW bridge lanes.

“They assured me that they no information that would change my ability to say that no one…on my staff was involved in this matter. That was obviously a lie,” said Christie. “I would never have come out here four or five weeks ago and made a joke about these lane closures if i had ever had an inkling that anyone on my staff would have been so stupid but to be involved and then so deceitful as to just not disclose their information of their involvement to me when directly asked by their superior.”

Stepien, who ran Christie’s re-election campaign, received emails from Wildstein of newspaper articles criticizing the lane closures. Stepien shrugged off the negative press, writing that ‘It’s fine” and calling Mayor Sokolich “an idiot.”

Christie told reporters that he was “disturbed by the tone” and the “callous indifference” in the emails sent by Stepien.

“Read that, it made me lose confidence in Bill’s judgment, and you cannot have someone at the top of your political operation who you do not have confidence in,” said Christie.

Christie also asked Stepien to withdraw his nomination for New Jersey Republican Party Chairman as well as his consultancy with the Republican Governor’s Association.

“If I cannot trust someone’s judgment, I cannot ask others to do so,” said Christie. There’s no doubt that Bill has been one of my closest advisors over the last five years, and so for that, too, I am sad today to have to take this action.”

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