This post has been updated.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) faced the music Thursday following the revelation that members of his administration had been involved in lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last year.
But while he hit all the necessary notes — apologizing to the people of New Jersey, announcing he’d fired members of his staff and claiming the ultimate responsibility for what happened — Christie routinely slipped into moments of cognitive dissonance and rhetorical flubs that suggested the scandal has left the governor at least slightly shaken.
From the top of the press conference, Christie pledged to interview his staff to discern what had led to the closures in September. His objective was “to determine if there’s any other information that I do not know and need to know in order to take appropriate action.”
Watch video highlights of Christie’s press conference below.
But when pressed later if he had talked to Bridget Anne Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff who he had just fired, Christie said he had not and had no plans to. That was despite the fact that the scandal blew up on the governor earlier on Wednesday when Kelly’s email saying it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” became public.
“I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly,” he said. “She has not given the explanation why she lied. I’m quite frankly not interested in the explanation at the moment.”
It was but one of many “huh” moments in a nearly two-hour press conference during which Christie attempted to rehabilitate a public image that had taken a drubbing in the past 24 hours.
Some of it appeared innocuous, perhaps a slip-of-the-tongue during the most tense press conference of Christie’s political career. At one point, Christie said he’d endured two sleepless nights over the revelations, even though the documents causing him such a headache had only been released a little more than 24 hours earlier. Given the chance to clarify, Christie acknowledged that it had been a slip.
The governor also strangely clung to the notion that the traffic problems might have started with a traffic study, an excuse that some of his former appointees at the Port Authority have offered up for the lane closures but one that was dismissed by the top official at the agency.
But at several points throughout the press conference, Christie re-raised the traffic study theory, if only to observe that we still don’t know what the instigator of the whole issue was. He also took the unusual step of assuring reporters that he wouldn’t accuse whether Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, of perjuring himself when he testified that there was no traffic study.
“I don’t know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study,” Christie said. “I probably wouldn’t know a traffic study if I tripped over it.”
He rebuffed stories that said Christie was a high school friend of one of the the key Port Authority who resigned in the scandal. He denied the narrative that he’s acted as a political bully. He reiterated that he had been blindsided by the revelations.
The marathon presser lasted so long that by its end, the Fort Lee mayor had already responded to something Christie said at the beginning of the event. Christie had announced that he planned to visit Fort Lee later in the day, but the mayor told the governor to keep away.
With questions about his management swirling, Christie seemed intent on taking every question, offering endless answers, in a surreal display of political theatre.
The whole episode might have peaked when a reporter asked if Christie had thought about resigning.
“That’s a crazy question, man,” Christie said. “I’m telling you, I had nothing to do with this. So you know, no, I never gave any thought to doing that at all, nor would i. What was I thinking about last night when I couldn’t go to sleep? How did this happen? That’s what I was thinking about.”