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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Chris Christie News Conference

Aired January 9, 2014 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, NEW JERSEY: I'm not finished yet, guys. But the fact is that regardless of all that, you know, it's clear now that in the minds of some people there were political overtones or political side deals on this. And that's unacceptable. So, whether there was a traffic study or not, I don't know. It appeared that there was one based on what I saw in the testimony, but regardless of whether there was or wasn't, there clearly were also political overtones that were evidenced in that - in those e-mails and other messages that were never ever brought to my attention until yesterday. Yeah?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Governor, do you understand why people would have a hard time believing that you didn't know about this lane closure, considering your management style and the closeness (ph) of your staff, and if you didn't know about it, what does that say about your ability to lead (ph)?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I am -- there's this kind of reputation out there of me being a micro manager. I'm not. I think if you talk to my staff, what they would tell you is, that I delegate enormous authority to my staff and enormous authority to my cabinet. I tell them come to me with policy decisions that need to be made, with some high level personnel decisions that need to be made, but I do not manage in that kind of micro way, first.

Secondly, there's no way that anybody would think I know about everything that's going on, not only in every agency of government at all times, but also every independent authority that New Jersey either has on it's own, or by state, both with New York, with Pennsylvania, and with Delaware.

So, what I can tell you is, if people find that hard to believe, I don't know what else to say but to tell them I had no knowledge of this -- of the planning, the execution or anything about it, and that I first found out about it after it was over. And even then what I was told is that it was a traffic study. There was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday that was brought to my attention or anybody else's attention.

And so I understand why people would ask that question and I understand your question completely. What I also want to tell the people is even that with all that being said, it's still my responsibility. I didn't know about it, but it's my responsibility because I'm the governor. So I'm taking that responsibility, and taking actions appropriate with executing the responsibility in accord with what the information is today. Marcia?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

CHRISTIE: As I've said many times when I was U.S. attorney, I hated when politicians stood behind the podium and said this is what the U.S. attorney should or shouldn't do, and I'm not going to engage in that kind of conduct at all.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are there any other cases - have you asked of your staff if there are any other cases including a retribution that were conducted during (ph) your campaign or mayors (INAUDIBLE) --

CHRISTIE: Well, listen. Again, let me say this, clearly that's the tone of those e-mails. But the thing that -- the other part of this that just shocks me is, as I've said to you all many times before, Mayor Sokolich was never on my radar screen. He was never mentioned to me as somebody who's endorsement we were even pursuing. In fact, I think he said on CNN last night that he doesn't recall ever being asked for his endorsement.

So, part of this is, I never saw this as political retribution because I didn't think he did anything to us. Now, we pursued lots of endorsements during the campaign from Democrats, and we didn't receive most of them. We received about 60 at the end of the day. We pursued hundreds.

And so I never -- I don't have any recollection at any time anybody in the campaign asking me to meet with Mayor Sokolich or call him, which was the typical course that was used when we were attempting to get an endorsement, that staff would work with the elected official first, and then when they thought, using the vernacular, the ball was on the tee, they would call me in to make a phone call or have a meeting or a breakfast, and I would then meet with the elected official and see if I could bring it over the line.

I don't remember ever meeting Mayor Sokolich in that -- certainly never did in that context. I don't ever -- I'm sure I met him at some point at an event in Bergen County, but I have to tell you, until I saw his picture last night on television, I wouldn't have been able to pick him out of a lineup.

And so, part of this is, the reason that the retribution idea never came into my head was because I never even knew that we were pursuing his endorsement. And no one ever came to me to try to get me to try to pursue the endorsement in any way. So, I never saw it as a serious effort.

(QUESTION): (INAUDIBLE) -- now that you know it did happen --

CHRISTIE: Well sure, of course! Of course, of course. John. John.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) would you say (ph) you're going to continue to ask these questions of your staff. I want to know what kind of questions you might be asking of yourself. HR sustains (pg) 65,000 employees, (INAUDIBLE) people you trusted and at least in one case went to their birthday party, and they either --

CHRISTIE: What was that last piece?

QUESTION: You went to the birthday party --

CHRISTIE: Went to a birthday party of mine?

QUESTION: -- of one of the staff - the staff member you fired this morning.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, a few of them were there.

QUESTION: So, I'm just asking what do you ask yourself about - they either thought this was what the boss wanted, or as a group they were willing to go rogue and do this and then tried to cover it up and then lie to you?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, obviously -- I said earlier, John, I'm heartbroken about it, and I'm incredibly disappointed. I don't think I've gotten to the angry stage yet, but I'm sure I'll get there, but I'm just stunned. What does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask about me what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me?

And there's a lot of soul searching that goes around with this. You know, when you're a leader of an organization, and I've had this happen before where I've had folks not tell me the truth about something -- not since I've been governor, but in previous leadership situations -- you always wonder what you could do differently.

Believe me, John, I haven't had a lot of sleep the last two nights. I've been doing a lot of soul searching. I'm sick over this. I've worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty and directness and blunt talk, one that I think is well deserved, but you know, when something like this happens, it's appropriate for you to question yourself. Certainly, I am, and I am soul searching on this.

But what I also wanted the people of New Jersey to know is this is the exception, not the rule. They've seen that over the last four years with the way I've worked and what I've done. So, I don't want to fall into the trap of saying this one incident happened therefore the one incident defines the whole. It does not. Just like one employee who's lied doesn't determine the character of all the other employees around you.

And so I don't want to overreact in that way either, John, but if you're asking me over the last 48 hours or last 36 hours if I've done some soul searching, you bet I have. Brian. Brian.

QUESTION: Governor, the mayor of Jersey (ph) City is quoted as saying that today he declined to endorse you, and said he would vote Democrat, as many as ten appointments between state officials and Jersey City officials were canceled, suddenly all at once. How do you explain that in the context of what you now know about what some of your staff did? CHRISTIE: Well, listen, all I know is -- I don't know, Brian. That's the first answer I'll give you to the question. What I'll also say is, listen, Mayor Fulop seems to be having a lot f disagreements with lots of people - with me, with the Senate president, and others.

There's going to be back and forth, there's going to be meetings canceled, there's going to be public disagreements. But the fact of the matter is we've continued to work with Jersey City over the course of time, since he's been mayor. In the last year I think we've approved about 190 million dollars in EPA (ph) financing for projects in Jersey City. The DEP, deputy commissioner was just meeting yesterday with Mayor Fulop and his staff on Blue Acres issues to try to buy out properties that were affected by Sandy.

So, we continue to work with him. I don't know about specific meetings or what's going on, but certainly I will look into all those things. The fact is that what Mayor Fulop knows is, when we agree with him from a policy perspective, we'll work with him. When we disagree with him, we'll express those disagreements. And sometimes that'll mean friction. He's suing the Port Authority at the moment.

Okay? So, there's lots of back and forth and to and fro that happens in these things. I look into all this stuff, but in the end, have I at times been angry with Mayor Fulop and disagreed with him? You bet, I have, but I also spoke at his swearing in at his invitation. So, political relationships in this state go up and down, as you know, Brian. Sometimes strange bedfellows, sometimes expected ones. And They move.

So, I'm sure there's been movement in those relationships over time, but not anything I can explain as to the specific question. Bob.

QUESTION: I heard that you actually - when your staff read "The Bergen Record" and learned something new in the situation awareness (ph). Does the universal apology to the state of New Jersey include the press corps?

CHRISTIE: Well, sure. I mean listen, if you're - most of you, I hope, are citizens of New Jersey. So you would be -

QUESTION: There are some exceptions -

CHRISTIE: I know they are. We don't need to point them out. But I -- but yes, of course it does. And -- cause the fact is I came out here and said and said something that was untrue, I mean, unwittingly. But I said something that was untrue.

I think what you all have seen about me over the last four years of my dealings with you is that I deal with you directly. And I say exactly what I think. And I think over time, I have developed the reputation for telling you all the truth as I see it. There could be disagreements, but the truth as I see it.

And so, yeah. I mean, would I include the press core? Of course I would because most if not -- many, if not most of you, are residents of the state, and you rely upon the state government to be honest and trustworthy as well. And in this instance, my government fell short. And I take responsibility for that. And that's why I'm apologizing.

Beth. (ph)

QUESTION: I'm wondering what your staff said to you about why they lied to you. Why would they do that? What was their explanation? And what about (inaudible)

CHRISTIE: I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since the e-mail 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. And I'm, quite frankly, not interested in the explanation at the moment.

QUESTION: Governor.

CHRISTIE: I'm not done. She had a second part of the question.

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'm 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 the Chairman Foy wrote his e-mail -- or Executive Director Foy wrote his e-mail to the board of commissioners.

And so, I sat and met for two hours yesterday with Mr. Samson -- General Samson. And, again, I'm confident that he had no knowledge of this based upon our conversations and his review of his information.

So I think, you know, as he said yesterday, he's angered by this and upset about it. And I know that he's going to lead -- cooperate with the OIG investigation that's ongoing and lead a discussion at the Port Authority about what could be done in the future to stop such conduct.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Charlie? (ph)

QUESTION: You said earlier, that the question you were asking in reflection is what did I do wrong (inaudible). But are you also asking the question what did I say or how did I conduct myself in a way that would have led these folks to think it was OK to carry out such a scheme like this? The criticism has been that -- suspicion's been that (inaudible) throughout your administration in the campaign that allowed people to think it was OK to intimidate or retaliate against people.

CHRISTIE: No, Charlie, listen, I haven't because I know who I am. I'm not that person. And listen, it's easy for people to be characterized in public life based upon their personality. And I have a very direct, blunt personality. And I understand why some people would then characterize that, especially people that don't like you, as bullying. But it's not that. And I know that about myself, and no, I haven't asked that question, Charlie. I'm more focused on why the truth wasn't told to me.

Melissa.

QUESTION: (inaudible) this afternoon and apologize to the residents there, are you also going to apologize for the jokes you made about (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: I just did. Well, I just did. I said I'm sorry for that and I would have never made the joke if I knew the facts that have come forward to me today.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

CHRISTIE: Because I thought it was absurd and I thought that we had nothing to do with it. That's why. And obviously, I've -- obviously, the e-mails are evidence of callous indifference to the result of that and that's what I've apologized for. And I do apologize for, Melissa. And I certainly intend to apologize, you know, to the mayor today. I'm going to try to get a meeting with him this afternoon.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Terry. (ph)

QUESTION: (inaudible) e-mails with at least one mayor (inaudible)

CHRISTIE: Who's that?

QUESTION: (inaudible)

CHRISTIE: I read that. I didn't read it that that way at all. And that was a reference to a traffic study that, candidly, I know nothing about. And I recognize that the e-mail said something about the governor supported or endorsed it. Because I don't know anything about it. I have to believe that was the governor's office generically, that reference, because I -- as I stand here today, I don't know anything about the traffic study in Springfield.

QUESTION: (inaudible) ever go into town (ph) and say this is what happens if you endorse us?

CHRISTIE: Oh, God, no. Absolutely not. No, no. It's just not -- no, that's not the way it operates. Terry (ph), we built relationships over four years with folks trying to be helpful to every town that we could be helpful with appropriately, so no, nothing like that was ever done.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Governor, you said you did (ph) some soul searching. I'm wondering if you're soul searching about the kind of people you hire, or the kind of people who run your campaigns, or the kind of people that run the Republican party who are willing to, apparently, engage in political retribution and also call the mayor a racially insensitive man.

CHRISTIE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Soul searching on the hiring practices and how you judge people.

CHRISTIE: Sure, it was a mistake. I mean, soul searching is complete on that part of it. It was a mistake.

QUESTION: Hiring?

CHRISTIE: Obviously. It was a mistake.

Listen, the fact is that mistakes were made. And I'm responsible for those mistakes. And I obviously try every chance I can to hire the very best people. And I think the history of this administration shows that we have hired outstanding people with great ethical standards who have done their jobs extraordinarily well.

In a government of 65,000 people, there are going to be times when mistakes are made. Mistakes were made, and I remediated those mistakes today by the actions that I've taken.

And so, you know, I'm in a constant state of trying to figure out what's -- who are the best people for individual jobs who will make me proud to have put them there. And so, that's always been going on. That's nothing new now.

But, you know, there are times when people that you put those positions make mistakes, they disappoint you, you lose your confidence in them, or they lie to you. And when you find that out, the test of leadership is, what do you do?

I found this out at 8:50 yesterday morning. By 9:00 this morning, Bridget Kelly was fired. By 7:00 yesterday evening, Bill Stepien was asked to leave my organization. That's pretty swift action for a day's work.

And that's exactly the way I'll continue to conduct myself if there's any other information surrounding this that comes up or anything different that comes up over the course of four years.

Phil (ph)?

QUESTION: (inaudible) how much of a crisis in confidence you have (ph) now that people you surround yourself with (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: I can differentiate, Phil, between people who have served me well and haven't. And of course there's always going to be some after something like this where you've been lied to. There's going to be some crisis in confidence, OK? There always will be. I mean, anybody who tells you differently is not telling you the truth. If they say to you, you know, this happened to you and you're not going to second guess yourself at all, well then you're just stupid.

Of course I've second guessed myself and gone through my head on some of this stuff. And in the future, I'll try to be even more careful.

But here's what I know about human beings, Phil. I've hired a lot of them in my time as U.S. attorney, as governor, and as a hiring attorney in a private practice law firm. Sometimes despite the best background checks -- you know, despite the best interviews, despite your best instincts, sometimes people are a mistake hire. Sometimes they start off as a good hire and because of circumstances that happen in their life, they change. You can't prevent everything.

But the test of leadership is, when you find it out, what do you do? And I'm saddened to have to do this. It's difficult personally to do. But it's my job, and I've taken an oath, and I'm going to execute my job.

Josh (ph)?

QUESTION: (inaudible) Was that just a mistake in (inaudible)?

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: In terms of (inaudible) now that you've been able to get a handle -- political (inaudible) what happens with this government? (inaudible) Was there then a retribution? And what (inaudible) some sort of vendetta exercised against the New York sky (ph) at the Port Authority after the revelations first began appearing?

CHRISTIE: A few things: first off, to my knowledge -- and I think the mayor said this last night -- I have no knowledge of him being asked for an endorsement. He may have been, but he certainly was never asked by me.

But he, I think, said last night on television that he doesn't recall ever being asked for an endorsement. That's why this made no sense to me, Josh, because why would you execute a vendetta against somebody who you didn't even give a chance to say no to?

Put aside the fact that you shouldn't do that at all.

But then if you never asked him for an endorsement, why are you mad at him that he didn't give one? It -- none of it made any sense to me. So that's the first point --

QUESTION: But you still don't know what prompted -- ?

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: I don't. I don't.

And, again, 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. I mean, I've seen in front of the legislature statistics and other things about the traffic study, so I know there's information there.

I don't know what it is. And so we'll find out over time, maybe. But that's really in the minds of the people who were doing it. And that's what I based my decisions on at the time, was the testimony that people gave.

Lastly --

QUESTION: On the payback (ph) that (INAUDIBLE)?

CHRISTIE: No, no, no, listen. I don't know exactly what you're referencing, but I think that you're talking about the Foy (ph) memo that was leaked.

Is that what you're talking about? No.

QUESTION: While -- as the (INAUDIBLE) and as (INAUDIBLE) were redacted (ph), but it seemed that David Wildstein's (ph) emails, the traffic issue arose, complaints were made, a story appeared in one of the newspapers, complaints were then logged internally (INAUDIBLE) over the stories.

And so Wildstein says -- I don't (INAUDIBLE) what, something along the lines of you're taking appropriate action against the New York side. And Sampson is working with us (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: Yes, it was something -- yes. I asked General Sampson about this, I think, it's -- yes, it's something to that effect. I don't remember exactly what it was.

I asked Sampson -- General Sampson about that yesterday. He 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 then he said that's just not appropriate for folks to be leaking internal documents. But he has no recollection from what he told me yesterday of any conversation like that with Wildstein or Baroni (ph) at all that references what -- the gist of what you said in the email.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) internal payback operation (ph) going on?

CHRISTIE: Not that I -- certainly not that I'm aware of or not out of the normal. I mean, let's remember something, too. This is a bi- state agency with significant tension, all the time. Now, there's no tension between Governor Cuomo and I. We get along quite well.

And when issues rise to our level, we've always been able to resolve them. But there is tension and always has been between New York and New Jersey on the allocation of resources at the Port Authority.

And so let me be clear, there is some battles over there that go on that have happened in every administration over the course of my memory, but you can't connect that to -- that's kind of the ongoing nature of the tension of that agency, and I think of most bi-state agencies, although I think at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, because the resources are greater and the demands are greater, it's even more.

So, no, nothing that I know of that's specific to that, Josh.

But I do want to make clear to people that, you know, this is -- there is tension that goes on between the employees of these agencies. Not every one of those issues of tension, thank goodness, are raised to my level and Governor Cuomo's level.

But the good news for the people of New York and New Jersey is that when those issues have been raised in the last three years, to my level and Governor Cuomo's level, we have always, between the two of us, amicably resolved it and been able to move on. And sometimes that's the roles governors have to play in that agency.

QUESTION: Governor?

CHRISTIE: Yes?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) questions about (INAUDIBLE). You said clearly (ph) that (INAUDIBLE) the actual implementation (INAUDIBLE).

So (INAUDIBLE).

(INAUDIBLE) concerned whether or not, putting out stories of homes (ph) to change a couple of lanes of traffic (INAUDIBLE) traffic study?

CHRISTIE: I -- OK. Let me answer that and then I'll let you follow up.

I don't know what makes a legitimate traffic study. It's not my area of expertise. And so I wouldn't have a nose for that. I just wouldn't. I don't really know what makes a legitimate traffic study.

I've been told that sometimes they're done live, sometimes they're done by computer model. I've heard that in the professionals who testified for the Port Authority. But you'd have to go to them to ask them what a legitimate traffic study is. I probably wouldn't know a traffic study if I tripped over it.

QUESTION: So (INAUDIBLE)?

CHRISTIE: No, it didn't.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) --

CHRISTIE: Second hand -- follow up -- go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. You said you said that (INAUDIBLE) that sometimes it raises to the level of governor. There's a report now that in fact (INAUDIBLE) Governor Cuomo to complain that the New York 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.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) lie under oath?

CHRISTIE: I don't -- listen, I have no idea. But clearly, you know, there's a difference of opinion between Senator Baroni (ph) and Pat Foy (ph) about the existence of a traffic study. And there seem to me to be evidence that Senator Baroni showed of statistics and maps and other things about a traffic study.

Now, this could go back to the nuance of what really constitutes a traffic study or not. They may be arguing about some specifics and nuance that I'm not familiar with. But I certainly would not accuse Pat Foy of perjuring himself. I don't; I'm not.

I'm just telling you what I was told and what we saw before the legislature. But you know, I certainly wouldn't accuse Pat Foy of perjuring himself in any way.

QUESTION: You (INAUDIBLE) not under oath, right?

You said (INAUDIBLE) everything he said was genuine and that he's not in any way --

CHRISTIE: Listen, I -- guess what? After reading everything yesterday, I don't know.

But what I'm telling you is that that's what I've been told. He seems to display evidence for that at the time, but that's now because of the tone and tenor of these emails and text messages, that's now -- you know, all this stuff is something that I'm not going to warranty (ph) because I don't know, given some of this back-and-forth that went on between all of them.

Senator Baroni's a very respected guy. He's served in this building for a long time. I've known him for a long time. When he, you know, made his testimony, I would have no reason to believe that he wasn't telling the truth.

But obviously from reading these emails yesterday there was other stuff going on that I hadn't been informed about.

Bob?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

CHRISTIE: I never called him personally, no. But Baroni's position continued to be that there was a traffic study. And he had a disagreement with Pat Foy about that.

So, you know, they had a disagreement. That was pretty clear. And I didn't think Bill Baroni was going to change his mind because Pat Foy had already expressed those concerns in earlier written documents that he had -- you know, or not he but someone, had put out to the press.

Matt?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) yesterday, what was going on, (INAUDIBLE)?

CHRISTIE: I had no conversation with Bill Stepien (ph) (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: (INAUDIBLE)

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) happened here (INAUDIBLE)? (INAUDIBLE) --

CHRISTIE: Bennett (ph), listen, I had -- I had earlier conversations with Bill Stepien (ph) where, as I expressed to you at the time that Bill told me he knew absolutely nothing about this.

So, you know, and certainly the emails yesterday and emails involving Bill Stepien were all after -- well after the fact, so I -- but that's not the basis upon which I made my decision on Bill. My decision on Bill was made based on the fact of the tone, the tenor and the conduct that was evidenced in those emails.

I lost confidence in his judgment. And that's why I made the decision I made as to Bill.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Yes, Brian (ph)? Brian (ph)?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) secret -- it's no secret that many in the Republican Party are (INAUDIBLE).

Do you see what has happened here playing into your decision-making process over the next year or two?

CHRISTIE: I have no idea what the decision-making process would even look like at this point, as I've said many times before.

And I know that everybody in the political media and in the political chattering class wants to start the 2016 race. And universities can't help themselves but do polls that are meaningless three years away from an election. And you guys can't help but put them on the air and talk about them.

My job is to be governor of New Jersey. And I have -- I'll say what I've said before, I am enormously flattered that folks would talk about me in my party as someone who they think could be a candidate for president.

But I am absolutely in nowhere near beginning that consideration process. I haven't even been sworn in for my second term yet. I've got work to do here. And that's my focus.

My focus is on the people of New Jersey and the job that they gave me. And so all those considerations are, you know, the kind of hysteria that goes around this because everybody's -- in that 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 got some spare time to spend.

Yes?

Because you're rolling your eyes and looking very, you know --