New Jersey governor Chris Christie spoke for almost two hours Thursday as he worked to clear any whiff of suspicion that he was personally involved with the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.
The early read from GOP consultants is that Christie did an admirable job of apologizing and trying to exonerate himself. But, experts add, he left a very narrow margin for error; Christie drew a LOT of bright red lines, saying that he had “no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or it execution” and that he had no “inkling” or understanding about why his staff pursued the closures at all.
For now, he appears to have insulated himself against the kind of damage that would torpedo his possible 2016 campaign. But if any of his statements proves untrue, it will undermine what Christie hopes to make an airtight case for his own innocence in the matter.
Here’s a list of some of the strong statements Christie made Thursday -- statements that will no doubt help up for scrutiny in the coming days.
On his knowledge of staff involvement in the bridge closure
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“I have absolutely nothing to hide. And I have not given any instruction to anyone yet, but my instruction to everybody will be to cooperate and answer questions.”
“I first found out about it after it was over. And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study. And there was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday that was brought to my attention or anybody else's attention.”
[Before the December press conference when he denied staff involvement] “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 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 .. on my staff was involved in this matter.”
On fired aide Bridget Anne Kelly , who appears to have directed the closures
“She had no prior approval from the chief of staff, who was her direct report. And she had no prior approval from the governor. She did not seek it. We weren't informed about it. And so if she acted in a manner which exceeded her authority, which seems, you know, to be a possibility, you know, that's what she did. But I had no knowledge of this and neither did the chief of staff.”
“I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since the email came out. And so she was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had.”
On Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich
“Mayor Sokolich was never on my radar screen. He was never mentioned to me as somebody whose endorsement we were even pursuing.”
“I don't have any recollection of at any time, anybody in the campaign ever asking me to meet with Mayor Sokolich or call him.”
“I have no knowledge of him being asked for an endorsement. He may have been, but he certainly was never asked by me.”
“I never had Bill Stepien or anybody else connected with the campaign even mention to me, like even an update, like, hey, we've had two meetings with the mayor; we think things are going well or we think things are going poorly. I'd get those kind of updates. I never heard the Fort Lee mayor's name, Mark Sokolich, his name, until all this stuff happened.”
“I may have met him in a greeting line or in a -- in a big Bergen County event or at a town hall meeting or something. But I'm telling you, like, until yesterday when I saw his picture on TV, I wouldn't have -- if he walked in the room, I wouldn't have been able to pick him out.”
On David Samson, a Port Authority official appointed by Christie
“I think General Samson put out a statement yesterday that he had no knowledge of this. I interviewed him yesterday. He was one of my interviews. I am convinced that he had absolutely no knowledge of this, that this was executed at the operational level and never brought to the attention of the Board of Commissioners until … [Port Authority Executive Director] Foye wrote his email to the Board of Commissioners.”
“He [Samson] said he has absolutely no idea what Wildstein's referring to, and that the only communication that he had at that time was his concern that he expressed to fellow commissioners about internal Port Authority documents being leaked, and that he just said, that's just not appropriate for folks to be leaking internal documents.”
On David Wildstein, the Christie-appointed Port Authority official who was the recipient of Kelly’s request to cause ‘traffic problems’
“It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school.”
“I have had no contact with David Wildstein in a long time, a long time, well before the election. You know, I could probably count on one hand the number of conversations I've had with David since he worked at the Port Authority. I did not interact with David.”
“I don't even remember in the last four years even having a meeting in my office with David Wildstein. I may have, but I don't remember it.”
On the reported dispute between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Christie
Q:There's a report now that in fact you called Governor Cuomo to complain that your representative on the Port Authority board was asking too many questions …
Christie : Not true. Not true. I've denied that story before. That's an old story. And Governor Cuomo has denied it as well. So it's not true.
On other staff
“I believe that I've spoken to everyone who was mentioned in the emails except for Charlie McKenna, who is away at a family funeral. And I am confident, based upon my conversations with them, that they had no prior knowledge nor involvement in this situation.”
Q: How confident are you that this doesn't rise above Bill Stepien in the campaign?
Christie: There was no one above Bill Stepien in the campaign. He was the campaign manager. So there was no one above Bill Stepien in the campaign.
Q: But there were plenty of other officials, some of them quite close to you.
Christie: Yeah, but their role in the campaign was not the day-to-day operation of the campaign… Bill Palatucci was the chairman of the campaign, and he was essentially involved with fundraising. That was Bill's main task. Mike DuHaime was the general consultant. He dealt with TV ads and mail pieces.
Q: You're sure that they didn't know about?
Christie: Yes, I've spoken to both of them.