Two More Christie Aides Dropped For Role In Political Revenge

Two more staffers are out of the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The widening scandal started with a multi-day traffic jam on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, and now it has people questioning Christie's future in politics.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie held a marathon news conference today. This after revelations that top staffers apparently caused massive traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey as political payback against the city's mayor. As of this morning, two members of Christie's team had been let go, and the governor himself had begun answering the many questions raised by the scandal. NPR's Joel Rose begins our coverage.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: When Governor Christie had been asked before about the lane closures that led to terrible traffic tie-ups in Fort Lee, he tried to downplay their significance. He even joked that maybe he himself had set up the traffic cones. But his tone today was very different.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: And I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.

ROSE: Christie apologized for days of major traffic jams last fall near the George Washington Bridge, which connects his state to New York. Christie says he learned only yesterday that one of his top aides had emailed one of his appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that it was, quote, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," unquote, apparently an act of retribution against the mayor, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie in his re-election bid last year.

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've been so stupid.

ROSE: In a marathon, 90-minute news conference today, Christie announced he had fired Bridget Kelly, the aide who wrote that now-infamous email and then, according to Christie, lied about it.

CHRISTIE: I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust.

ROSE: Christie also cut loose another close aide, Bill Stepien, who apparently knew about the lane closures too. He's a former Christie campaign manager who had just taken over as the head of the New Jersey GOP. He's one of several high-ranking Christie aides whose name appear in emails and text messages released this week as part of an investigation into the lane closures by a committee of the state legislature.

Just after Christie finished speaking, one of the central figures in the scandal, David Wildstein, the former Port Authority operative who ordered the lane closures, took the witness stand.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Wildstein, could you state and spell your last name for the record?

DAVID WILDSTEIN: David Wildstein, W-I-L-D-S-T-E-I-N.

ROSE: But where Christie had been voluble, Wildstein had very little to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And most recently, where were you employed?

WILDSTEIN: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully assert my right to remain silent under the United States and New Jersey constitutions.

ROSE: Wildstein pled the fifth to a long list of questions. And the committee's chairman, Democrat John Wisniewski, says he still has a lot of unanswered questions, starting with what did the governor know and when did he know it.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI: It's strains credibility to say that somebody in as high a position as a deputy chief of staff, somebody in as high a position as his campaign manager, all whose names are in these emails, did not ever communicate this to the governor. It's just strains credibility.

ROSE: Wisniewski's committee isn't the only body that's looking for answers. The U.S. attorney for New Jersey says he'll look into the lane closures as well. Governor Christie has promised to cooperate. Joel Rose, NPR News, Trenton, New Jersey.

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