Return to Transcripts main page


Chris Christie News Conference

Aired January 9, 2014 - 12:00   ET


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: World gets preoccupied with that job. I am not preoccupied with that job. I'm preoccupied with this one. And as you can tell, I got plenty to do. So it's not like I've got some spare time to spend.

Yes. Because you were rolling your eyes and looking very, you know, disgruntled that I hadn't called on you yet. Well, I've known Brian (ph) longer than you, so -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fair enough. You clearly spoke about a David Wildstein (INAUDIBLE). Can you elaborate on your feeling towards (ph) his role in this and any information that you garnered from him regarding (INAUDIBLE) what kinds of emotion (ph).

CHRISTIE: I think you've - I think -


CHRISTIE: I'm sad. I'm sad. That's the predominant emotion I feel right now is sadness. Sadness that I was betrayed by a member of my staff. Sadness that I have people who I entrusted with important jobs who acted completely inappropriately. Sad that that's led the people of New Jersey to have less confidence in the people that I've selected. The emotion I've been displaying in private is sad.

And as I said earlier I think in the answer to your question, you know, I don't know what the stages of grief are in the exact order, but I know anger gets there at some point. I'm sure I'll have that too. But the fact is right now I'm sad. And -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And for your pal (ph) and friend David Wildstein -

CHRISTIE: Well, let me just clear something up, OK, about my childhood friend David Wildstein. 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 mean, I had a high school in Livingston, a three year high school that had 1,800 students in a three-year high school in the late '70s, early 1980. I knew who David Wildstein was. I met David on the Tom Kean for governor campaign in 1977. He was a youth volunteer and so was I.

Really after that time I completely lost touch with David. We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time. And then we reacquainted years later in I think 2000 when he was helping Bob Franks with his Senate campaign against Jon Corzine. So we went 23 years without seeing each other. And in the years we did see each other, we passed in the hallways. So I want to clear that up. It doesn't make a difference except that I think some of the stories the way they're written impute like an emotional relationship and closeness between me and David that doesn't exist.

I know David. And, you know, I knew that Bill Baroni wanted to hire David to come to the Port Authority. And I gave my permission for him to do it, but that was Bill's hire. He asked for permission. I gave my permission for him to hire David. But let's be clear about the relationship, OK.

And how do I feel about David now? Listen, what I read yesterday makes me angry. That's the one bit of anger I felt. That language and that callous indifference in those e-mails from David yesterday are just over the top and outrageous and should never, ever have been written or uttered by somebody with a position of responsibility like that, and those sentiments. So that's the way I feel about it. And thanks for the opportunity to further expound on my relationship.




CHRISTIE: Yes, John?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you said you (INAUDIBLE). Why not, if you're going (INAUDIBLE) -

CHRISTIE: I made my -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get to the bottom of (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: John, I said I haven't spoken to them since I discovered the e-mails. But I spoke to them beforehand. And Bridget clearly did not tell me the truth. And, Bill, you know, what he told me at the time is not contradicted by the e-mails, but the e-mails and the color and character of the e-mails has led-- have led me to conclude that I don't have confidence in his judgment any longer, and that's why I asked him to move on. And he has.

I mean, so, you know, at this point, there are legislative hearings that are going to come and all the rest. And I don't want to get myself in the middle of that. Chairman Wisniewski said pretty clearly yesterday that he intends to ask Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien to testify. And I don't -- my gut sense, John, is that it wouldn't be appropriate for me to get in the middle of that because then there would be all kinds of other allegations about those conversations. So I think the smarter thing for me to do is ask to those two folks who I made determinations regarding their future, to move on from there and talk to other folks who are still in my employ.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A follow-up question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There (ph) are other names in your inner circle who are in those e-mails. At least named or perceived (ph) or (INAUDIBLE). Are you confident in some (INAUDIBLE) that they are, you know, (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: I believe - I believe that I've spoken to everyone who was mentioned in the e-mails 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about - what about a cover-up (ph)?

CHRISTIE: Yes, well, that's your characterization, not mine. But there was nobody on my staff who had any knowledge of this issue until after the issue was already done.

In the back, yes?


CHRISTIE: It's awful. No, I've also seen conflicting reports about what the cause of death was and whatever, but it doesn't matter. It's awful to hear.


CHRISTIE: Again - again -


CHRISTIE: Listen, all I can do is apologize for the conduct of people who worked for me. I can't do anything else. I can't reverse time. If I could, believe me, I would. But I'm just going to apologize. I think that's all you can do. And there's really nothing else you can do.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, along the lines of doing the job as governor that you have said that you're focused on regaining the trust of the people of New Jersey. A lot of people are upset about this and shocked. The first couple of years you were governor, you had a lot of town hall meetings. You traveled all over the state and spoke to people. Any thought about possibly trying to do something like that again?

CHRISTIE: Oh, well, we clearly are going to do town halls in the second term, David. I think we suspended town halls during the campaign because of our concern that folks may raise the issue of, in the midst of a campaign, blurring the line between what would be a town hall event, what would be a campaign event. And so during the campaign we made the determination we weren't going to do town hall meetings as the campaign heated up to avoid that concern.

And, you know, I certainly had no plans to do it during the transition. I was trying to get through a transition. But we certainly intend to do town hall meetings in the second term. And try to do, you know, hopefully as many as we did in the first term. I enjoyed the town hall setting and process.

And the fact is, David, you know, I think -- I don't believe I've lost the trust of the people of New Jersey. I think the people of New Jersey are looking to see, when mistakes are made, how their leader is going to react. And I believe that when they see me take the action I'm taking today, that they'll say, mistakes were made, governor had nothing to do with that, but he's taking responsibility for it and he's made the decisions that need to be made and has promised us he'll continue to make those decisions if necessary going forward.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, two questions. Do you think that Wildstein should go before the (INAUDIBLE) this afternoon and tell everything he knows?

CHRISTIE: Listen, that's between David and his attorney. He's represented by council now. I mean I'd love to hear the whole story for my own purposes, but I can't, you know, advise them what to do. Someone who's represented by counsel is going to make his own judgment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wouldn't encourage him to do that (ph)?

CHRISTIE: I just did. I said I'd like to hear the story, but I don't want to be in the position of instructing someone to do something because they're represented by counsel. He and his lawyer will determine what they believe is in their best interests. Certainly, you know, hearing the story would be good for everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, follow-up (ph) please. Who initiated this whole thing?

CHRISTIE: I -- I don't know. I don't know. I mean, listen, up to this point in time, up to the e-mail's were released yesterday, it was Senator Baroni's testimony that Mr. Wildstein initiated it at his approval -- with his approval. Now, you know, I don't know given some of the e-mails that I saw yesterday.

But clearly Mr. Wildstein played a major role in it, whether it was his idea in (ph) initiation of Senator Baroni testifying. I guess time will tell. But clearly there was knowledge of this action, whatever it was, prior to the beginning of it with Bridget Kelly. And that was something that I said in direct answer to Angie's (ph) question a few weeks ago was not the case. That's what we were told after repeated questioning of all the people around here. And I was lied to. And for that she's been terminated.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, (INAUDIBLE). How did you (ph) fail (ph) to get the truth from your (ph) own staff (ph)?

CHRISTIE: Well, first off, I would love, Angie, for you and others to believe that I interviewed hundreds if not thousands of people as U.S. attorney. I did not. My (INAUDIBLE) aides (ph) interviewed hundreds if not thousands of people. It was a very rare occasion when the U.S. attorney himself or herself goes into a room and interviews a witness. It probably happens a dozen times in seven years. It's a very rare occurrence.

Angie, if you're trying to understand this on a personal level, if you've worked with someone for five years and they've been a member of your political team and then governmental team, and you look at them and you say to them, what do you know about this and did you have any involvement in it, did you have any knowledge of it? And they look at you and say, no, and you've had -- never had any reason before to believe that they were anything but a truth-teller, why wouldn't you believe them?

I mean, I work on the basis of trust with people. And I assume, over a period of time, that most people are trustworthy unless proven otherwise. And so when we asked those questions and we got those answers, there was no reason at the time we asked the questions for us to believe that they weren't true based upon the conduct of that person. And I think, you know, even if you look at some of the stories today written about Bridget Kelly, I don't think you've heard anybody in those stories talk about her in any way but very positive ways, given her history here in the state house and working for the legislature.

So I had no reason to believe that she was telling me anything other than the truth. And that's why I used the phrase before that I was heartbroken, because I trusted that I was being told the truth, and I wasn't. And I wasn't by somebody who I placed a significant amount of trust in. So you -- did I miss it?

We missed it. I mean, that's why we're here, right? We missed it. But then what do you do when you find out you missed it? I found out at 9:00 -- a little before 9:00 yesterday morning. By 9:00 this morning, her position was terminated. And I think that's swift, appropriate action that people would expect from the chief executive of the state.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nature of Bridget's e-mail sounded like they had a prearranged (ph) agreement (ph) that --

CHRISTIE: You know -


CHRISTIE: I understand what you're saying. I can't read anything else into it beyond -- I know you're inferring certain things from the e- mail. I think that's a reasonable inference, but I don't know. I don't know the answer. Because, remember, when we asked questions, we didn't even know about the existence of the e-mail. I found that out for the first time at 8:50 yesterday morning. And you can only imagine, as I was standing there in my bedroom with my iPad looking at that, how incredibly sad and betrayed I felt. And so I don't know what to say beyond that.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, you were a U.S. attorney with a (ph) very high profile passion (ph). You investigated (INAUDIBLE) taken over the governor's office and (INAUDIBLE). You now are a governor who has a U.S. attorney investigating people that were connected to your office.

CHRISTIE: Correct (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What instructions are you giving - have you given to your staff? What will you do? And can we expect to see claims of executive privilege and you know it was (INAUDIBLE) cannot have documents, or are you going to cooperate fully in your -

CHRISTIE: Listen, 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 -- you know, Josh, I have nothing to hide. So any questions anybody wants to ask me, they can ask. You know, from law enforcement, you know, anything they want to ask, they can ask. So we have nothing to hide and this administration has nothing to hide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, governor, governor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of - it seems like your fact finding is still gaining some momentum. You're still finding out what's going on. Do you think this could have an impact (INAUDIBLE) on hold (INAUDIBLE) nomination to be attorney general since he was chief of staff and probably be (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: Oh, absolutely not. Kevin's, you know, confirmation hearing will go forward on Tuesday. And I expect, you know, he'll be vigorously questioned, like any candidate for attorney general should be. And I expect that he'll get swift and certain confirmation because he deserves it.

Elise (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As much of this as we saw in the e-mails, much of this discussion was taking place on private e-mail accounts. Have you asked your staff to copy you with any (ph) government business on private e-mails (ph)?

CHRISTIE: I have not. I hadn't thought about that yet, Elise. There's been a lot of things I've been thinking about. That wasn't one of them. I'll put it on my list of things to consider.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you had any other e-mails? Yesterday's e- mails were just a small amount.

CHRISTIE: We've been given no documents, Elise (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you requested any more documents?

CHRISTIE: I don't know. But we certainly -- none were offered to us to review. The first time we saw any documents was on the Bergen "Record" Web site yesterday morning. We haven't been offered any.

Charlie (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bridget Kelly, did she have the authorization to carry out significant policy decisions such as (inaudible) governor's office, traffic study, funding, without getting prior approval from you or your senior staff?

Or did she just read (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I don't believe Bridget had policy authority on any issue.

Bridget's job was to interact with the other governmental agencies and to have interaction with members of the legislature, and that was her job.

So my understanding of her authority was that she had no authority on policy, that policy issues had to be run through the chief of staff's office, and so, no.

Now, again, I know there are certain suppositions in that question, but my understanding of Bridget's authority was not that it extended to policy, no.

Melissa (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) find it hard to believe that Bridget would be making these kinds of calls, making these kinds of decisions as reflected in the e-mail (inaudible) without prior approval (inaudible) senior staff?

CHRISTIE: She had no prior approval. Let's put aside the supposition.

She had no prior approval from the chief of staff, who is 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 matter which exceeded her authority, which seems 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.

Melissa (ph)?


CHRISTIE: I spoke to Mike last night. David, at that, time was considering whether or not to resign, and he made the determination the next day in a meeting with the administration to resign.

But I don't believe from my conversation with Mike last night that that was the main topic of the dinner that night. The dinner was a social dinner, not a professional dinner.



CHRISTIE: To the extent I can, Jenna.

From what I know at this point Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein's position is that the lanes were closed to do a traffic study, and I've heard nothing from them that changes their position.

I now see e-mails which indicate that there is a political overtone to what went on. I don't know what the situation is.

I don't know whether -- like I said, I think I answered this before. I don't know whether this was some type of rogue political operation that morphed into a traffic study, or traffic study that morphed into an additional rogue political operative. I don't know.


CHRISTIE: Well, listen, as best I can, but, you know, Mr. Wildstein is scheduled to testify at the legislature, so not like he's available for interview.

So, I'm not -- as I said in response to a question over here, I'm not going to get in the middle of the legislative process with people that they've already noticed to be witnesses. I think that would be inappropriate.

Let them do their job, because if I did then, I'd be accused of trying to play around with testimony, which I'm not going to get involved in.

Marsha (ph)?


CHRISTIE: Listen, you think I'm suggesting any traffic studies any time soon, you got to be kidding me.

I don't want a traffic study in front of my house. I think I'm out of the traffic study business for certain, never really in it, and definitely don't want to be in it.

Listen, here's what we should do as a policy going forward. That should be left to the professional staff at the Port Authority, and let the professional engineers and those folks deal with whether those things should be done or not done. I'm pretty confident in saying that that is the current position of this administration.

Luke (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moving forward, (inaudible) said yesterday that the assembly's investigation into this will continue.

Do you believe that he (inaudible) should continue to (inaudible) or do you (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I think they have every right to do what they're doing, given what we revealed yesterday. And so, you know, I'm certainly not going to question that in terms of their right to conduct an investigation. I think, given what was revealed yesterday, I was shocked by it. I assume they were, too.

And I have a good relationship with the incoming speaker. And I'll work with him in every possibly way I can to make sure that we put this matter to rest.

So I certainly am not going to question their right or their ability to do that, no.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible)here's the latest polling, here's the new ad (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: He never -- his name was never mentioned to me. His position was never mentioned to me.

When I say, John (ph), he was not on my radar screen, that means he was not on my radar screen.

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 get those kind of updates. I never heard the Fort Lee mayor's name, Mark Sokolich, his name, until all this stuff happened.

And so he was not on my radar screen at all. Plenty of other mayors were. A number of them wound up endorsing us and a number of them I wound up having meetings with, like you're referencing.

Mayor Sokolich, not only did I never have a meeting with him, he was never mentioned to me.

That's why you go back to the question over here about making a joke about -- that's part of the reason I feel comfortable doing it, like this can't have anything to do with politics. I don't even know this guy.

How could it be that someone would be doing something like this against a mayor that I never had any conversations with nor any sense that we were even seeking his endorsement?

And, so, you know, that's why this is such -- that's part of the reason why this is such a mystery to me, John (ph), and why I'm so upset about it.


CHRISTIE: I would have said, Who's he? No, I would have said, Who's he?

If somebody would have said something like that to me, I would have said, Who's he and what did he do?

I mean, I don't know this guy. Like I said, I may have met him in a greeting line or in a big Bergen County event or at a town hall meeting or something, but I'm telling you, 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.

So, that's not to diminish him in any way. It's just that in this context this is not a guy who was on my radar screen in any way, nor was his name ever brought up to me by Bill Stepien until after the story started to appear about the Fort Lee traffic problem.

That's the first time that I heard about Mayor Sokolich. That's why, John (ph), it's such a mystery to me.


CHRISTIE: Sure. Of course, I was, Kelly (ph), but you know what? He wasn't one of them. He wasn't one of them.

I'm happy to admit that I was trying to run up the score. Absolutely. That's what you do in a political campaign, try to get as many supporters, endorsers that turn into voters. That's part of your job.


CHRISTIE: Of course, but I had to go get it. Invariably in these things I ultimately had to make a phone call or do something to bring the person over the finish line. It was the rare occurrence that I never met a person or spoke to them or had that arrangement with them.

So, you know, my point to you is -- this is -- I'm trying to give you context for why I didn't think this was an issue.

Because I know the campaign that we ran. I know who I was pursuing as endorsers. I know who was close and we didn't get. I know who was never close and -- or we were trying to get. And I know the people we got.

This guy never was on my radar screen. And I think he confirmed that last night by saying he was never really -- he doesn't have any recollection of being even asked for the endorsement.

And that's -- you know, that's why I don't get this, but it is what it is. And I'm responsible for it. Regardless of all that, John (ph), I'm responsible for it. It happened on my watch.

And you can't just say, Well, listen, I didn't know about it, so it's not my problem. Go talk to somebody else. The buck stops at my desk. And so I have to act.

And I've acted as quickly as I could responsibly. I found out about this at ten minutes to 9:00 yesterday morning. By 9:00 this morning, Bridget Kelly was terminated. By 7:00 last night Bill Stepien was told to leave the organization and leave the RGA.

So I think that's pretty swift action, given that I really yesterday was blindsided by this. I'm not happy I was blindsided. I'm not proud I was blindsided.

As I said when I came up here, I feel humiliated by this. I'm a person who cares deeply about doing my job well. I work extraordinarily hard at it. That's what I should do. I've taken an oath to that in fact.

But I am humiliated by the fact that I did not know this and that I was deceived. And that's an awful way to feel.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One person (inaudible) and we talked to her yesterday. Over the e-mail, she was not happy. (Inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: One of the supporter's children, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. So, there are two questions (inaudible) part of the investigation, but also this is (inaudible).

Can I just get your thoughts, please, on how serious this was (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: It wasn't good. I mean, I think that's why I'm here apologizing. It was an awful, callous, indifferent thing to do.

And if it was part of a traffic study, that's one thing. Once it has political overtones, that's an entirely different matter. And that's why I am upset about this.

And that's why I apologized to the people of New Jersey today and why I apologized specifically to the people of Fort Lee inconvenienced over those four days.

It's not right. And that's why I'm here apologizing.


CHRISTIE: I have no idea. And, again, I will respond to those questions as I always have.

As a former U.S. attorney, when I was U.S. attorney, I hated when politicians stood behind podiums and told the Department of Justice what to do.

And I am not going to do that after complaining to my colleagues about it for seven years when politicians would do it.

Now that I'm one of those, I'm not going to do that.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor? Governor, you just said earlier, I have nothing to hide. And then you repeated it, I have nothing to hide.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) did you ever imagine you would stand in front of this many cameras and this many reporters and say I have nothing to hide?




That was a searing bit of commentary, wasn't it?

Brian (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible). You said you got very little if any sleep last night.

Did you ever for even a brief moment entertain the idea of (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: Oh, God no. No.

Brian (ph), I mean, you know, listen, I know what you're asking. You know, I am. You know, I am. I heard (inaudible) in the back that's a crazy question, man. I'm telling you, I had nothing to do with this, and 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.

You know, when -- sure, when you're responsible and I spend a lot of time keeping Mary Pat up last night, talking me through it.

You know, that's when it's great to have a really supportive spouse. She's willing to do four hours, too.

But, you know, it -- that's what I was thinking. How did it happen, and why do people do this? I just don't get it.

Yeah, you work really hard, Brian (ph). I work hard at this job. And it's incredibly disappointing to have people let you down this way.