A New Jersey legislative committee investigating the traffic-jam scandal that has rocked Gov. Chris Christie’s administration released hundreds of documents Friday that could shed more light on the politically motivated lane closings that created gridlock at the George Washington Bridge.
The subpoenaed records — including correspondence involving Christie’s inner circle — were made public a day after the Republican governor moved quickly to contain the scandal that could damage his expected run for the White House in 2016.
Christie on Thursday fired a top aide, cut ties to one of his chief political advisers and apologized repeatedly to the people of New Jersey for the “stupid” behavior of his staff.
He again denied he had any role in the apparent attempt to punish the mayor of Fort Lee — the town at the foot of the bridge — for not endorsing Christie for re-election last fall.
The four days of traffic jams last September delayed emergency vehicles, school buses and countless commuters at the bridge, one of the busiest spans in the world, crossed by more than 100 million cars and trucks a year.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” an uncharacteristically subdued Christie said in an extraordinary news conference nearly two hours long, during which he patiently took dozens of questions.
Allies of Christie suggested the worst is behind him. But critics promise to keep probing what happened, federal prosecutors are examining the case, and the internal documents released Friday could take the scandal in new directions.
“Unless something new develops, I think he’ll survive,” said former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican who was a mentor to Christie. “But if there’s a pattern of these things, if other incidents emerge with similar characteristics, that’s going to be a real problem.”
David Axelrod, a top adviser to President Barack Obama’s campaigns, said Christie handled the high-profile news conference “as well as he could.”
Unless a smoking gun turns up, “he lives to fight another day,” Axelrod tweeted.
Christie had previously assured the public that his staff had nothing to do with the lane closings. But emails and text messages revealed Wednesday that his administration may have intentionally caused the traffic mess to exact vengeance against Mayor Mark Sokolich.
Christie said he fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, “because she lied to me” when he demanded weeks ago that anyone who knew anything about the episode come forward. He also jettisoned former campaign manager Bill Stepien, asking him to withdraw a bid to become the next state GOP chairman.
The governor said he was disturbed by the “callous indifference” Stepien displayed in the emails released this week. Stepien had widely been seen as a potential campaign manager for Christie if he runs for president.
Christie said he is still looking into the episode and will take action against other senior staff members if warranted.
The governor traveled to Fort Lee on Thursday to apologize in person to the mayor.
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