UK & World News

  • 9 January 2014, 19:04

Governor Sacks Aide Over Traffic Jam Scandal

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has sacked one of his top aides linked to lane closures at one of the world's busiest bridges in an alleged political revenge scheme.

Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly is accused of engineering political payback against a New Jersey town mayor, who did not endorse Mr Christie.

Mr Christie said at a news conference on Thursday that he is "embarrassed and humiliated" by the accusations his office orchestrated last year's lane restrictions at the George Washington Bridge.

He said he made the decision to fire Ms Kelly "because she lied to me".

Mr Christie apologised to the people of New Jersey for what he said was his "failure as the governor of this state to understand the nature of this problem sooner than I did".

Ms Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Mr Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016.

Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor of Fort Lee.

Email and text messages obtained amid a statehouse investigation into whether the lane closings that led to the tie-ups were retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie for re-election last fall.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Ms Kelly wrote in a message to David Wildstein, a top Christie appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

A few weeks later, Mr Wildstein closed two of three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the heavily-travelled George Washington Bridge, which runs between New Jersey and New York City.

The messages do not directly implicate Mr Christie, but they contradicted his assertions that the closings were not punitive and that his staff was not involved.

The governor acknowledged on Thursday that was a lie because his staff did not tell him what they had done.

Mr Wildstein, meanwhile, refused to answer questions after being called to appear before a state legislative committee looking into the scandal.

He repeatedly invoked his constitutional protection not to say anything that might incriminate him, despite the committee chairman saying his silence could result in contempt.

Mr Wildstein, a childhood friend of Mr Christie, resigned from the Port Authority in December.

Critics suggest the incident reflects a darker side of Mr Christie's brand of politics that contradicts the image he would like to project as he eyes the presidency.

On Thursday, Mr Christie continued to deny knowing about the lane closings and previously said no one on his staff was involved.

He said he was stunned by the "abject stupidity that was shown".

Besides firing Ms Kelly, the governor asked a second trusted aide, former campaign manager Bill Stepien, to withdraw from a bid to become the next state Republican chairman.

Mr Christie said he was disturbed by the "callous indifference" displayed by Mr Stepien in the emails released on Wednesday.

The US attorney in New Jersey has said he is investigating the lane closures "to determine whether a federal law was implicated".

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