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The mayor whose town was apparently punished by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s aides during last year’s campaign said Sunday “I take him at his word” that Christie had no prior knowledge of lane closings leading to the George Washington Bridge.
The lane closings in Fort Lee, N.J. were an apparent effort to retaliate against Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, who had not endorsed Christie in the campaign. Sokolich met with Christie on Thursday to accept Christie’s apology for the incident which created massive traffic jams in Fort Lee.
Sokolich said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that Christie was “candid” during their meeting, but added “there’s just a lot of stuff out there,” a reference to unanswered questions about the bridge episode and other allegations that Christie is heavy-handed in his governing style.
“If he didn’t know, he certainly should have known” that his aides had ordered the lane closings, Sokolich said. “I’ve always understood that the governor ran a very, very tight ship…. He was in control of a lot of things and he would review everything, and he made sure that anything that his name was even remotely involved in, he was involved in.”
A potential contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Christie faces the prospect of being entangled for months in investigations of the bridge episode by both the Democratic-controlled state legislature and by United States Attorney Paul Fishman in New Jersey.
If he didn’t know, he certainly should have known.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, said the e-mails revealed so far from Christie appointees made it “very clear that the personnel there” were “not sensitive to what seemed to be a fairly obvious wrong thing to do.”
Also on Meet the Press, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus argued that the bridge episode did not necessarily indicate a lack of attentiveness by Christie.
“New Jersey is a huge, complicated government and so is the Port Authority. People made decisions at the Port Authority that they shouldn’t have made – and those people are gone,” he said.
He also said despite the revelation of thousands of documents “not one single link to Chris Christie has been found.”
Priebus argued that “everyone is fallible…. But the real question is, what do you do when mistakes happen?” Christie honestly admitted that his subordinates made mistakes and “he admitted that he trusted people that lied to him,” Priebus said.
“Americans are forgiving people. But they’re forgiving when you take ownership, you admit mistakes, you take corrective action – and that’s what Chris Christie showed.”
Priebus praised Christie’s candor in being willing to answer reporters’ questions for nearly two hours at his press conference on Thursday.
Christie told reporters that he was “stunned by the abject stupidity” of his former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly who, according to leaked e-mails, was directly implicated in the bridge lane closings. Christie said that Kelly lied to him about the lane closings and that he was blindsided about the episode.
Christie’s critics contend that the bridge episode proves that he is vindictive. Christie “set a tone that makes abusive actions acceptable,” said the New York Times in an editorial condemning him on Friday.