Return to Transcripts main page


Coverage of Chris Christie Press Conference

Aired January 9, 2014 - 12:30   ET


GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: And it's incredibly disappointing to have people let you down this way. I'm incredibly loyal to my people, and I expect, in return, their honesty and their candor and their loyalty. And I didn't get it. And it's a hard thing, a hard thing after you work as hard as I do with them at it.

But here's the thing. This is my job. And there are going to be mistakes. And there are going to be disappointments.

I don't think there's a perfect government anywhere in the country, and I certainly never claimed to have one. I claim to have the best government I could possibly make.

And sometimes there are going to be mistakes. And when there are, I have to own up to them and take responsibility and act. And that's what I've done today.

And my promise to the people of the state is that if there's any other evidence that comes forward that requires action to be taken, I will take it, no matter how much it hurts me personally or dismays me, because this is the job I asked for. And I've got to do it.

Yes, Luke (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) that was something in the works and then -- looking back now and clarify how that process played out, do you think Mr. Baroni was jumping ship a little bit? Or were you guys moving to replace him before that?

CHRISTIE: Neither. As I said that day, I had made the determination during the fall campaign that I wanted to make a change at the Port Authority.

Bill was one of the longest-serving deputy executive directors in recent history at four years. And I felt like it was time for a change.

Part of that is evidenced by my response to Josh's (ph) question about the internal workings. I mean, there's a lot of hand-to-hand combat over at the Port Authority, legitimately so between New York and New Jersey about resources or whatever.

And I think -- I thought, as I said at the time, that four years was enough for any one person. And so I had approached Deb Gramiccioni during the fall campaign, who at the time was my policy chief, and said, I'm thinking about making a change at the Port Authority.

Would you be willing to take the job if I asked you? She said yes.

And, so, from the fall campaign, I don't remember if it was September or October, Luke (ph), it was some time before election day, I had made that decision in my own mind.

And very soon after the election that was communicated to Bill Baroni. So what we were doing was trying to figure out the timing of all that during -- I wanted to get it done during the transition.

I wanted Deb to finish some policy work that she needed to follow -- finalize for me. And I wanted Bill to have an appropriate period of time to be able to get himself ready to move onto his next opportunities.

And so that's the way the process worked. And so it was neither Bill jumping ship nor us pushing for this reason. It was us saying, "Hey, it's time to go. You served four years. And I'd like to put someone else there."

And so all that was very amicable at the time and something that, you know, he understood to be such, once Deb was willing to take the job.

David (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, a couple hours after the story broke yesterday, the assembly transportation (inaudible) Wisniewski was discussing the fact that the more he learned about, including thousands of page of documents, the longer the list was growing of people he would be thinking about issuing a subpoena to.

And he was asked if that could possibly include you. And he said he had the authority to issue a subpoena to anybody who needs -- he needs to get information from.

If you were to get a subpoena for whatever reason, what would you do?

CHRISTIE: I'm not going to speculate on that.

Matt (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) wondering what else, what other e-mails -- (inaudible) did you know about that? Is there a transparency issue in general?

CHRISTIE: No. A, I don't know about what you're talking about. This is the first I've heard of it. Second, I don't believe there is.

We take these OPRA requests very seriously. And we have a person dedicated in counsel's office to use to review these matters. And you know they have people inside the departments, individuals in the departments, to review OPRA matters. So, no, I don't think there is, Matt (ph). I think in the main, you know, we respond to these OPRA requests appropriately under the law.

That's my understanding from both my first chief counsel and my second chief counsel. So I don't have any reason to believe otherwise.

If there are sometimes -- I don't know the incident you're talking about, but if there are sometimes mistakes that are made or oversights, I'm sure that can happen.

But, no, there's no pattern or conduct of that. It's the law. We have to comply with it. And we comply with the law as written.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, I'm wondering when you were first called for comment on the story (inaudible) do you think this will effect your ability (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: When was I first called for comment? I have no idea, because I don't get those calls directly, so I don't know.

Secondly, no, it won't affect my ability to work at the RGA at all. No.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Through this entire press conference you've said that you're a loyal person, you expect loyalty from each person on your staff (inaudible)

Are you the victim here? Or is (inaudible) should she be fired because she wrote a traffic study that messed up traffic (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: First of all, I don't know that she ordered a traffic study. I know what I might infer and what you might infer from that.

As I said earlier, we're going to have to find out who actually -


CHRISTIE: I -- that's not what you asked, though, OK?

I'm telling you that when I ask an answer from a member of my staff and they lie, regardless of what the conduct is they lied about, they're gone.

So I never had to get to the conduct, the underlying conduct. If you lie when I ask you a question, you're fired. That's it.

Now, if I had to have gotten to the underlying conduct, there was plenty underlying conduct there to fire her on, too, but I didn't even get there, because question one was, do you know anything about this? Did you have any involvement in it?

The answer was no. The e-mail's evidence that the answer should have been yes. I needed to go no further than that in terms of making a determination about her future employment with me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Christie (inaudible), in terms of a compliance standpoint, the very person who had probably the most information about why she did this is the very person you cut off communication with.

Isn't that a management mistake?

CHRISTIE: Are you suggesting I should have kept her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm saying talk to her (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: Listen, Bob (ph), and then if I did that, then you'd have the legislature complaining that I'm talking to someone who the chairman has said yesterday publicly he intends to call as a witness.

And I think the higher priority is for me not to interfere with what the legislature's in the process of doing.

And, so, no, I'm not going to do that because then -- listen, the political nature of this would lead to charges of interference. I'm not going to do that.

If -- after -- if she's brought to testify there, which the chairman said he intends to do, and she testifies, if after that time, I have -- we have other questions, then we can make the decision at that time whether to pursue that information.

But it is my judgment -- you can disagree with it -- but it's my judgment that for me to get involved with someone who the chairman has said he's going to call as a witness between the time I discovered this and the time that she may testify would be not the right thing for me to do.


CHRISTIE: I certainly wouldn't tamper with a witness, but I could be accused of tampering with the witness --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) at what point does political misconduct cross into criminality?

CHRISTIE: I don't know, Bob. You know? And the fact of the matter is the best way for me to not involve myself in that is to not involve myself in that. And I'm just trying to be a safe and careful steward of the public trust.

And would I love to have more information yesterday? You bet. But I also have to understand the position I hold. And it's a position of extraordinary trust.

And I have to execute that position with the acknowledgment of that trust. And so that's why I'm not doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, I'm just wondering --




CHRISTIE: I didn't quite understand your question. Could you repeat it? And I had trouble hearing you, too.


CHRISTIE: It wasn't surprising that he was subpoenaing.

And I didn't get the last part.


CHRISTIE: Because we didn't have the documents.


CHRISTIE: We asked Bridget Kelly. She told us she didn't have any. We asked her if she was involved. She said she was not. We asked her if she had any knowledge of it, she said she didn't.

That's why I was surprised. I'm surprised because I was told there was nothing there. And then there was.

I mean, you know, this is not -- in that sense, it's not a mystery. If you ask for something and someone deceives you and tells you it doesn't exist, what's the follow-up?

Are you sure? Yes. You searched your e-mails? Yes. You don't have anything? No. OK. Were you involved in any way? No. Any knowledge? No.

After that, what do you do?


CHRISTIE: You'd have to ask them. I don't know.


CHRISTIE: I don't think so. I don't think so.




CHRISTIE: I mean, yeah, I know. Listen, I know you guys would love that if I actually did. I told you I'm not to that stage yet. I'm sure I might get to the stage where I'm angry. I don't break things.


CHRISTIE: Oh, gosh, no. You need to understand this. I am standing here resolved to do my job and do what I'm supposed to do. But I am a very sad person today. That's the emotion I feel.

A person close to me betrayed me. A person who I counted on and trusted for five years betrayed me. A person who I gave a high government office to betrayed me.

I probably will get angry at some point, but I got to tell you the truth. I'm sad. I'm a sad guy standing here today, and very disappointed. And that's the overriding emotion.

Someone asked me that before. That's the overriding emotion. And I know that because of my bluntness and my directness that people think, well, of course he must get behind that door and be a lunatic when he's mad about something.

If you asked this staff, it is the rare moment in this office when I raise my voice, the rare moment when I raise my voice.

I reserve it for very special times. And I will tell you the last time I did, four weeks ago when I had them all in that office and I said, if any of you have any information about this that I don't know, you need to tell me, Kevin or Charlie now. That was the last time I raised my voice in that office

And so, no, I didn't break anything. I didn't yell and scream. I didn't curse anybody out.

It's a sad day for me. And I'm doing what I'm obligated to do under this job, because it's the right thing to do. And I'm doing it.

But it doesn't make me angry at the moment. It just makes me sad.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) Wildstein (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: 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.

If David would be here for meeting at the state house and I ran into him, we'd say hello, how's your family, we'd chat. We didn't have that kind of relationship.

I understand the way it's been characterized in the press, you know, high-level appointee. Well, yes, he had an important job, but he was not interacting with the governor on any regular basis.

There were channels to go through here, and he and Bill Baroni went through those channels. And if something had to be brought to my attention -- 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. Bill Baroni, yes, but David, no. So, no, nobody called and told me anything.

I'm telling you at 8:50 yesterday morning -- I got done with my workout at 8:45. My trainer left. I'm getting ready to get in the shower, and at 8:50, Maria Comella called me and told me about the breaking Bergen "Record" story.

And that was the first I knew of any of the e-mails or the information that was contained in that story.


CHRISTIE: No, I was at (inaudible) yesterday.

Kelly (ph)?


CHRISTIE: Yeah, that's why I apologized to them, Kelly (ph).


CHRISTIE: I -- no, I don't think it's my credibility. I mean I think, Kelly, if I didn't stand up and take responsibility and apologize directly to the people of New Jersey, as I've done today, then I think that would be a risk. But I'm not that kind of person.

I understand the responsibility of this job. I've had it for four years now. And I think I said this at the press conference in December. There's plenty of times I get credit for things that I had little to do with as governor. And sometimes I get blamed for things that I have little to do with. But it doesn't matter. I'm the governor. And the things that happen on my watch are my responsibility, both good and bad.

And you're darn right, what they did hurt the people of New Jersey and hurt the people of Fort. Lee. And the person who needs to apologize for that is me. And I have. And I am sorry to all the people of this state that they have to be, you know, occupied with this matter. It's embarrassing. And as I said before, the whole matter is humiliating to me.

But all you can do, as a person, when you know this, is to stand up and be genuine and sincerely apologize and hope that people accept your apology. I think I've built up enough good will over time with the people of New Jersey that I'm very hopeful they will accept my apology.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) is it possible there could be other e-mails that Bridget Kelly may have sent out (INAUDIBLE) other people (INAUDIBLE) your administration that you don't (ph) know about at this time and are you going to make a committed (ph) effort to look at computers and Blackberries and things like that in your office to see if these (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: I certainly - I -- first of all, the answer as of right now is, I don't know. It is certainly something that I've talked to staff about looking at. But, you know, again, Marsha, we found out about this 24 hours ago. So, you know, things will take some time.

I certainly have spoken to people -- in the interviews I conducted yesterday. I asked them specifically, you know, to check their e-mails and to let me know if there's anything that touches upon this. And we'll interview also folks who have -- who worked for Bridget to see if there's anything that they know and can shed light on.

So we're in the process of doing that, but that's, you know, going to be time consuming. We want to do it carefully. And I just began that process yesterday and I'll work with my new chief council to get that stuff done so we can uncover whatever information we need to. But wherever the information comes from, you know, we'll take it into account. And if action is required, I'll take action.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, what did (ph) (INAUDIBLE). And a lot of your opponents will use this to (INAUDIBLE), you know, it's always the same. Is there any level of political retribution that is acceptable and (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: You know, listen, political retribution, no, Terry. Political fighting, sure. And people go back and forth all the time. And you've seen that in this building no matter what administration was here. But the way we're different is, we can fight, but then we get into a room and more times than not we're able to reach common ground with the other side to be able to move progress forward.

I mean, the Dream Act signing a few weeks ago is a perfect example of that. There was a lot of fighting about that. And a lot of kind of hysteria in the media about who's saying what about whom and what's all this mean and the anger and the back and forth between me and the senate president and others who were supporters.

You know, part of that is, you know, what you should be doing to engage in political debate and to try to persuade folks to your particular point of view. And then ultimately though, what makes us different and the thing that I was talking about known as politics as usual, is that this is an administration that has never shut down government over a budget dispute.

This is an administration that has reached bipartisan consensus on issues that have been problems for New Jersey for decades that no one else has been able to reach consensus on bipartisan or partisan. This is an administration that's gotten big things done with a legislature of the other party. So that's what I mean is not politics as usual. But will we fight sometimes and will things get sharp-elbowed? You bet. It goes both ways. But, you know, retribution as a word, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, there have been other examples of allegations of improper political behavior by state government. I'm thinking particularly about Henderson (ph) Country sheriff whose case was taken from the country prosecutor and (INAUDIBLE). Knowing what you know now about, you know, your staffer lying to you, are you going to go back and look at some of those other situations -



CHRISTIE: No. Because that was a situation which was handled by the attorney general at the time, and now Judge Paula Dow (ph). And I have complete utter confidence in Paula and her ability to make those decisions. I was not involved in that decision, nor was anybody in this building, because we don't get involved in law enforcement issues. And so, no, there's no reason for me to go back and look at that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, your state of the state address is coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this whole issue going to affect that all? And if so, you know, will there be undertones or will you approach it in any kind of different way?

CHRISTIE: No. Nope. I won't. It's the state of the state address. And, listen, this is one issue that we have to deal with. It's an important issue. But it cannot be the only issue because, you know, we have things to do in this state. Important things to do for the people of the state.

So I'm going to keep working and I'll work some on this and I'll work on other things as well. But it was very important today, within 24 hours of these revelations, for me to be -- take action and to apologize to the people of the state and the people of Fort Lee and that's, you know, exactly what I'm doing.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just reported that the Fort Lee mayor says (INAUDIBLE) would be premature and destructive (INAUDIBLE). Did he know you were planning on coming today or were you going to call him after this?

CHRISTIE: I was going to call him after this. If -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he won't see you, then?

CHRISTIE: Well, if he won't see me, I'll go see other people in Fort Lee. I mean I wish he would see me, but if - I'm certainly not going to like barge into his office. If he doesn't want to see me, then I'll go someplace else in Fort Lee and talk to people in Fort Lee. I wish the mayor would reconsider because I'd come up to genuinely apologize to him for the conduct of the people who were in my employ. But if he doesn't want a meeting, I don't know what he means how a meeting between he and I could be -- what were the words?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Premature and disruptive.


CHRISTIE: Premature and disruptive. I don't know how a meeting between two elected officials can be premature and disruptive. But if he doesn't want to meet with me, that's his choice. I'm - you know, I'll meet with other people in Fort Lee then.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you know, you said the buck stops here. (INAUDIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mayor did say one point (INAUDIBLE) significant overtime involved for first responders in terms of police. Is that something that you would consider to make (ph) maybe (ph) out of the campaign funds to reimburse since it was --

CHRISTIE: Well, I don't know why it would be the campaign fund. And I have no knowledge of that. And we would consider that in the normal course of business with Fort Lee. It's certainly not something that, you know, I'm prepared to talk about now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain why you (INAUDIBLE) e-mail was first published (INAUDIBLE) and you said that when you first got up it was (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: No, I think it was the -- it wasn't what Pat Foy's (ph) e- mail. I think there was an earlier story than that. But -


CHRISTIE: I don't remember exactly. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) it was about the traffic, though?

CHRISTIE: Something about the traffic, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And why didn't you respond then, especially after the (INAUDIBLE) all of this stuff that (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: I -- we did. We - no, we did. And we were told it was a traffic study.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well - but -- they tell you it's a traffic study, but the mayor is saying the (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: And we were told that they did a traffic study where they did not want a normal flow of traffic to be interrupted so that the traffic study would be a valid one. That's what we were told. And so we did respond. We asked them, and that's how we responded.

You know, and again, I'm not somebody who's going to be, you know, getting into the details of a traffic study, whether one is done appropriately or inappropriately, certainly at that time. And I can tell you that at that first moment, that's when I became aware that there was some issue. But I didn't even, at that point, delve into it. It was not something that I was personally delving into it.

So, Brian.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just got this from NBC (ph) (INAUDIBLE) about the mayor (INAUDIBLE) saying that he appreciates your comments very much. He thinks a visit today might be premature going to (INAUDIBLE) not waste the gas (INAUDIBLE) community, would just ask him to delay his visit. Any (ph) reaction?

CHRISTIE: Listen, my intention was, when I got out of here was to call the mayor. And so I will call the mayor. And we'll see. In any event, you know, I'm going to go up to Fort Lee today because I think it's important for me to do that. Now, if the mayor doesn't want me to meet with him, that's certainly his choice. He's --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he meant no disrespect.

CHRISTIE: Listen, I'm sure he -- listen, I don't know him, OK, so I can't be offended. And I'm not offended. If he wants to meet with me today, I'm happy to meet with him. If he doesn't want to meet with me today, I'm still going to go up to Fort Lee today because I think it's important for me to be on the ground there today and to apologize to folks.

And so, I'm going to do that. If he wants to be part of that, he's more than welcome to be and also to meet with me privately. If he doesn't, that's his choice too. He's, you know, got independent will. That's, you know, his call.

So, I want to thank you all for coming today and for your questions. And I will see all of you if not before on Tuesday for the state of the state address. Thank you all very much.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, there he is, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, nearly two hours making an opening statement and then answering lots of reporters' questions on this scandal that has erupted in New Jersey. A scandal resulting as a result of some closure of lanes going from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to Manhattan, over the George Washington Bridge causing disruption of traffic for three days in the Fort Lee, New Jersey, area, disrupting not only residents of Fort Lee but other communities in the area as well.

He says, "I came to apologize to New Jersey. I came to apologize to everyone there, especially to the people in Fort Lee." He said, "I am embarrassed. I am humiliated." He then announced that he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, that he's asked Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager, to step aside from future Republican political organizations, at least for now. And he distanced himself from David Wildstein, the representative on the Port Authority who had earlier stepped down.

The governor insisting he is heartbroken, he's betrayed by those he says who lied to him. But ultimately he also said, "I am responsible." He said, "I was blindsided, but I am responsible."

Gloria Borger is here. Chris Cuomo is here. Jake Tapper.

Gloria, first to you. What's your assessment of how he did? This was a major event, obviously, not only for him, but for the people of New Jersey, and maybe the country if he decides to run for president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, under the circumstances he was confronted with, Wolf, I think he did well. I mean, he said he was humiliated, blindsided, lied to and stunned.

He called it a callous act. He called these e-mails stupid. He said he had no knowledge or involvement in this issue. And he tried to address the question of whether this is a culture that he would promote or that he has promoted. And he said it is not the environment that I worked hard to achieve.

The answer -- the question we did not get an answer to, Wolf, because it's clear that he was being walled off from this and maybe that was his attorneys who were doing it is, why did Bridget Anne Kelly -- why did she decide that this was a good, smart thing to do from the governor's office?

BLITZER: Out of political vengeance allegedly to go ahead and disrupt traffic in this town of Fort Lee -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Because the mayor supposedly had not endorsed his re- election.

BORGER: And the closest Christie got to answering that question was, he said, why would this be a political vendetta? I did not know this man. I did not know that we had even asked him to endorse. This was not on my radar screen, so why would you do something on my behalf that was of no interest to me? So --

BLITZER: We're waiting for your microphone, Jake, over here.

BORGER: We have -- so the - you know, so I think -- and Christie, when he was asked, why did you not ask why, he answered that because he didn't speak directly with this person, that when he saw these e-mails he had her fired. And, you know, it's obvious that he's getting some legal advice that he should not get involved in the whys.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We should note that Christie -- Christie's onto something here when he talk - assuming that everything he said today is true.

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: He's onto something here when he said he had no idea why there would be this vendetta.

BORGER: Exactly.

TAPPER: And he's not saying -- he's not giving any credibility to the idea that this had anything to do with an endorsement.

BORGER: Right. Just the opposite.

TAPPER: He's saying this - that it was not -- was not on his list. He mentioned Wolf's interview with the mayor of Fort Lee a number of times -

BLITZER: And Mark Sokolich.

TAPPER: And Mark Sokolich saying that he was never contacted for endorsement.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And he said he doesn't even know the guy. He's never met him and he wouldn't be able to pick him out of a lineup.

BORGER: He said - and here -

TAPPER: So the question is, what was the reason for this vendetta?

BORGER: And we don't know.

TAPPER: Assuming that the e-mails present the case as we assume, you know, that there was a vendetta.

BORGER: And Christie's direct quote here is, "I never saw this as political retribution because I never thought he did anything to us." And then later on he said, "this was not on my radar screen." So the reasoning behind this still remains a mystery.

TAPPER: And also with the other thing that he said that he then - that he does -- this is not the tone he set. So he rejects the idea -


TAPPER: -- that this is - that he created an environment where this type of thing's accept - well, he acknowledged that there is political fighting, but said - rejected the idea that retribution is part of how they do things in his administration. But the question remains, as you've said, why did Bridget Anne Kelly feel like this was an acceptable thing to do?

BORGER: Right.


BORGER: And he did say I am not a bully. I mean, that was sort of a --

TAPPER: I am what I am, but I am not a bully.

BORGER: I am not a bully.

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: I am not a bully.