Photo: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)
Opening Statement
Press Conference to Apologize for George Washington Bridge Lane Closures
Trenton, NJ
January 9, 2014


Good morning.  I come out here to this office where I've been many times before and I've come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the state legislature.

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 the appropriate role of government and for the people that we're trusted to serve.

Two pieces to what I want to talk about today. The first is I believe that all of the people who were affected by this conduct deserve this apology and that's why I'm giving it to them. I also need to apologize to them for my failure as the governor of this state to understand the true nature of this problem sooner than I did. But I believe I have an understanding now of the true nature of the problem and I've taken the following action as a result.

This morning I've terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly [deputy chief of staff], effective immediately. I've terminated her employment because she lied to me. I brought my senior staff together, I think about four weeks ago tomorrow. and I put to all of them one simple challenge: If there is any information that you know about the decision to close these lanes in Fort Lee, you have one hour to tell either my chief of staff, Kevin O'Dowd, or my chief counsel, Charlie McKenna.

And I told them that in an hour I was going to go out in a press conference and if no one gave me other information to the contrary that I was going to say that no one on my staff was involved in this matter.

Over the course of the next hour, Kevin and Charlie interviewed each member of my senior staff, came back and reported to me that they all reported that there was no information other than what we already knew that had been testified to by Senator Baroni [Christie appointee served as deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, resigned Dec. 12] regarding this incident. I then questioned Kevin O'Dowd and Charlie McKenna directly, since they are the only two who report directly to me, and they assured me that they had no information that would change my ability to be able to say that no one, in response in Angie's [Angela Delli Santi, Statehouse reporter for The Associated Press] question, on my staff was involved in this matter.

That was obviously a lie. And the emails that I saw for the first time yesterday morning, when they broken in I believe the Bergen Record story, proved that that was a lie. There's no justification for that behavior. There's no justification for ever lying to a governor or a person in authority in this government. And as a result, I've terminated Bridget's employment immediately this morning.

Secondly, I have and will continue to, started yesterday, to once again now have personal one-on-one discussions myself with the remaining members of my senior staff to determine if there's any other information that I do not know and need to know in order to take appropriate action.

I'm not completed with those interviews yet, but when I am, if there is additional information that needs to be disclosed, I will do so. If there's additional actions that need to be taken with my senior staff, I will do so.

I will tell you, though, it's been written a lot over the last couple of days about what a tight-knit staff I have and how closely everyone works together, and that is true. And ever since the time I was U.S. attorney, I've engendered the sense and feeling among the people closest to me that we're a family, and we work together and we tell each other truth, and we support each other when we need to be supported, and we admonish each other when we need to be admonished. I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust.

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, just to not disclose the information of their involvement to me when directly asked by their superior. And those questions were not asked, by the way, just once; they were asked repeatedly.

So I take this action today because it's my job. I am responsible for what happened. I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short.

We fell short of the expectations that we've created over the last four years for the type of excellence in government that they should expect from this office.

But I have repeatedly said to them that while I promise them the best governor's office I could give them, I could never promise them a perfect governor's office. And so when I find those imperfections, those mistakes, those lies, my obligation as the chief executive of this state is to act. And as to Bridget Kelly, I've acted today.

Secondly, I was disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed in the emails by my former campaign manager, Bill Stepien. And reading that, it made me lose my confidence in Bill's judgment. And you cannot have someone at the top of your political operation who you do not have confidence in. As a result, I've instructed Bill Stepien to not place his name in nomination for state party chairman, and he will not be considered for state party chairman, and I've instructed him to withdraw his consultancy with the Republican Governors Association. If I cannot trust someone's judgment, I cannot ask others to do so, and I would not place him at the head of my political operation because of the lack of judgment that was shown in the emails that were revealed yesterday.

That has also been communicated to Mr. Stepien last night. There's no doubt that Bill has been one of my closest advisers over the last five years. And so for that too I am sad today to have to take this action. But I also know that I have a job to do. And it's the job that I've asked the people of New Jersey to entrust me with. And I can never allow personal feelings or long-standing relationships to get in the way of doing my job the way it's appropriate to do it.

But I don't want any of you to confuse what I'm saying this morning. Ultimately I am responsible for what happens under my watch – the good and the bad. And when mistakes are made, then I have to own up to them and take the action that I believe is necessary in order to remediate them. As I mentioned to you earlier, I spent all day yesterday digging into talking to folks and getting to the bottom of things. I know there was much discussion yesterday about what was I doing.

Well, let me tell you, everybody, I was blindsided yesterday morning. I was done with my workout yesterday morning and got a call from my communications director at about 8:50, 8:55, informing me of this story that had just broken on the Bergen Record website. That was the first time I knew about this. That was the first time I had seen any of the documents that were revealed yesterday.

And so before I came out and spoke to all of you, I wanted to do the best I could to try to get to the bottom on some of this so that when I came out I could answer questions as best I can and take appropriate action if action was necessary.

There was no doubt from reading those emails yesterday, in my mind, that action was necessary. And then I wanted to make sure that I spoke to those people who advise me to make sure if there was any other information they were aware of, that I had it before I acted.

I'm going to continue this process. I couldn't get it all done yesterday. And as I said, if there's more information that I uncover, I'll act accordingly in terms of releasing it to the public and taking whatever action may be necessary, if any is, for any other issues. And also, we'll react to any information that's incoming from anyplace else, given that there's an OIG investigation and a legislative investigation.

Later today I'm going to be going to Fort Lee, asked to meet with the mayor to apologize to him personally, face to face, and also to apologize to the people of Fort Lee in their town. I think they need to see me do that personally, and I intend to do that later on today. People of those communities for four days were impacted in a completely callous and indifferent way, and I'm going to go and apologize for that.

Let me conclude with this. This is not the tone that I've set over the last four years in this building. It's not the environment I've worked so hard to achieve. We saw just a few months ago, and I've seen over the course of the last four years, Republicans and Democrats working together, not without argument – government's never without argument – but ultimately coming to resolution on so many different issues in a bipartisan way and running a campaign that was in fact a bipartisan campaign.

And so I am extraordinarily disappointed by this, but this is the exception – it is not the rule – of what's happened over the last four years in this administration.

I've considered it over the last four years to be my job to be the governor of every New Jerseyan – Republican, Democrat, independent or unaffiliated – and I've worked with elected officials on both sides of the aisle, ones that I agree with and ones that I disagree with. The political overtones that were exhibited in those documents released yesterday and the conduct by those people is not acceptable.

But people, I think, all across this state understand that human beings are not perfect and mistakes are made. And I believe what they expect of me as the chief executive of this state is when that information comes into my possession, that I consider it and then act as swiftly as possible to remediate whatever ill occurred. That's what I've done today. Actions have consequences, and I'm living up to that right now.

And I'll say one last thing, just so we're really clear. I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or it execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here. Regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover, this was handled in a callous and indifferent way, and it is not the way this administration has conducted itself over the last four years and not the way it will conduct itself over the next four.

I will do everything within my power to assure the people of New Jersey that. And I thank them for their willingness to consider my apology on behalf of this government. In the end, I have 65,000 people working for me every day and I cannot know what each one of them is doing at every minute. But that doesn't matter; I'm ultimately responsible for what they do. And that's why I took this action.


Ed. Gov. Christie's opening statement lasted about 15:30 and the total press conference lasted for about 1 hour 48 minutes.