Attempting to deal with the fallout from the George Washington Bridge scandal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie holds a news conference at 11:00 am ET from the governor’s office in Trenton. And he definitely has some questions to answer. After denying for more than a month -- in the most Christie of ways -- that anyone in his administration played politics with these lane closings in Fort Lee, NJ, on Wednesday, eye-opening emails and text messages from the highest levels of the Christie administration were released showing exactly the opposite.
It was inevitable that Christie had to face the cameras, but it was odd how long it took him to confront this. This story cuts against every (formerly) perceived strength: he’s less ideological, willing to work across the aisle, and is a no-B.S. kind of guy. In the late afternoon, the usually bombastic and camera-friendly Christie released just a four-sentence paper statement: "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."
But he still has a lot of explaining to do. Here are at least five questions he needs to answer:
1. Has that member of Christie’s staff been fired? Christie seemed to be referring to his Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, who wrote the email saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” In his statement, Christie said the staff member “misled” him, and that “people will be held responsible for their actions.” So does that mean that Kelly is fired? Already, two top Christie Port Authority appointees have resigned due to this George Washington Bridge controversy. (One of them, David Wildstein, a Christie high school acquaintance - is slated to testify at noon ET before a state Assembly committee hearing. An NJ court will decide at 9:30 am ET if needs to testify.)
2. Does it say something about the culture inside Christie’s office that aides -- without his knowledge -- were playing politics over these lane closures to punish a Democratic mayor for not endorsing the governor in a race Christie was going to win by 20 points? Even if you take Christie at his word that he didn’t know about this until yesterday, his top aides were playing politics with New Jersey residents.
3. Does he regret not taking the allegations more seriously? When asked last month if his administration played politics with these lane closures, Christie said sarcastically, “I worked the cones on that. Unbeknownst to everybody I was actually the guy out there.” But until yesterday’s disclosures, it doesn’t seem as if the governor or anyone else in his administration was trying to get to the bottom of why these lanes were closed. Why not?
4. How does he regain voters’ trust? In his four years as New Jersey governor and on the national political stage, Christie has earned a reputation as a straight-shooter with the public. But has that reputation now taken a hit? After these previous denials, how does he regain that trust?
5. Does he show contrition and apologize to the people of Fort Lee and its Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich? In his statement, Christie said he was “outraged” and “deeply saddened.” But he didn’t apologize. And we’ve now learned that those caught in the traffic jams due to the lane closures included police officers searching for a missing 4-year-old year and emergency workers responding to medical crises. He has to show real contrition and self-reflection, which is not exactly something that Christie has shown to be in his DNA at this point.