9 Jan 2014

‘Bridge-gate’ scandal: Chris Christie apologises, fires aide

Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie fires an aide who it is claimed orchestrated traffic chaos in an act of political score settling.

Mr Christie, a Republican party ‘golden boy’ who has been touted as a potential presidential candidate, faced the press on Thursday after emails revealed that an aide, Bridget Kelly, may have arranged for lanes on the George Washington Bridge to be closed as an act of revenge against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

Mr Christie said Ms Kelly’s employment had been terminated “effective immediately” because “she lied to me”. However, the political heavyweight added that responsibility for the actions of his staff ultimately rests with him.

Saying that he had been “blindsided” by the revelations, which had left him “heartbroken”, Mr Christie told reporters that he would continue to hold one-to-one meetings with senior staff to find out if there is anything else he should know.

Political opponents to the New Jersey governor have criticised Mr Christie, saying that either he knew, or that he was not managing his staff appropriately.

Mr Christie also said that he would be going to Fort Lee “later today” to apologise face-to-face to Mayor Sokolich, and to the people of Fort Lee.


In mid-September, two lanes of the famous George Washington Bridge into New York were abruptly closed. Chaos ensued: a week-long traffic jam, tailbacks through nearby Fort Lee, and huge delays for school buses, commuters and even the emergency services.

The local authorities in New Jersey said they were conducting a “traffic study”. But in the state synonymous with Tony Soprano, a handful of newly revealed emails suggest it might have been something more traditional: an apparent abuse of power – motivated by revenge.

Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee. Aide to Chris Christie, in an email

Almost immediately after the sudden closure, allegations began to swirl that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s team had ordered the bridge closed to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who endorsed Mr Christie’s rival in the 2013 gubernatorial race.

Until this week, this was hotly denied. But now emails provided in response to a subpoena suggest that one of Mr Christie’s aides alongside two Port Authority officials with close ties to Mr Christie, Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the agency, and David Wildstein, its director of interstate capital projects, might have had something more to do with proceedings.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” writes Bridget Anne Kelly in an email to Mr Wildstein ahead of the closures.

“Got it,” he replies.

Chris Christie denies any knowledge of the bridge emails (Getty)


Mr Christie is not copied into the emails, which appear to come from personal accounts, and he is not specifically referred to, but his critics say it doesn’t matter: either he can’t control his staff, which is bad enough, or he is involved, which is worse.

Senator Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said: “These revelations are troubling for any public official, but they also indicate what we’ve come to expect from Governor Christie – when people oppose him, he exacts retribution.”

One thing is clear: this type of behaviour is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. Chris Christie

Mr Christie said on Wednesday that what the emails appear to show was “unacceptable”.

In a statement earlier on Thursday, he said: “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 behaviour is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behaviour is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”

Is it wrong that I’m smiling?

There are other troubling lines for Mr Christie’s team in the emails and texts, including a text sent to Wildstein on the day of the lane closures referring to delays for schoolchildren.

“Is it wrong that I’m smiling?” the message reads. “No,” he responds.

“I feel badly about the kids, I guess,” is the next message. “They are the children of Buono [Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor, Mr Christie’s rival] voters,” replies Mr Wildstein.

Mr Sokolich, Fort Lee’s mayor, later texts the Port Authority’s Mr Baroni.

“We should talk. Someone needs to tell me that the recent traffic debacle was not punitive in nature. The last four reporters that contacted me suggest that the people they are speaking with absolutely believe it to be punishment. Try as I may to dispel these rumours I am having a tough time,” he writes.

Both Mr Baroni and Mr Wildstein have resigned and appointed lawyers. Mr Wildstein is due to speak to lawmakers investigating the road closures later.