By Abby D. Phillip and Shushannah Walshe
One day after bombshell revelations implicated his top aides in a political revenge plot, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired a top aide and apologized for his staffers' part in the closing of several lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in 2013.
Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, will be relieved from duty immediately, Christie said. And he has instructed a second staffer, a top political aide and his former campaign manager, to sever his relationship with the Republican Governors Association, of which Christie is chairman.
"I am responsible for what happened," Christie said. "I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover."
"This was handled in a callous and indifferent way and it's not the way this administration has conducted itself over the last four years and not the way it will conduct itself over the next four," he added.
"I am who I am, but I am not a bully. I am tough, but I'm willing to compromise," Christie said in response to a question about his political style.
Christie, who has built a national persona as a straight-shooting, no-nonsense governor, appears to have been caught flat-footed by emails that revealed the involvement of a top aide, his deputy chief of staff, in orchestrating a four-day traffic nightmare in September at the world's busiest bridge as political payback against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee Mark Sokolich.
At his news conference today, Christie, considered a frontrunner for the GOP presidential race in 2016, addressed the email chain that implicated his aides.
"I believe that all of the people who were affected by this conduct deserve this apology and that's why I'm giving it to them," Christie said. "I also need to apologize to them for my failure as the governor of this state to understand the true nature of this problem sooner than I did."
Kelly's emails were revealed on Wednesday in documents subpoenaed by Democrats in the State Assembly. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote in an Aug. 13 email sent from her personal account.
"Got it," replied David Wildstein, one of Christie's top appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages jointly manages the George Washington Bridge.
Wildstein, who appeared before a New Jersey state legislative committee on Thursday, refused to answer questions, citing his 5th Amendment rights.
"On advice of counsel I assert my right to remain silent," he repeatedly told the legislators.
Members of the committee voted to hold Wildstein in contempt -- a misdemeanor offense -- because of his refusal to answer.
On Thursday, Christie said that Kelly failed to inform him of her involvement in the lane closings when she was asked just before a press conference in December when he told the media that his office had no involvement with the controversy.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team," Christie said. "She lied to me."
He added that he first learned of her involvement when the emails were revealed in a Bergen Record story on Wednesday morning.
The US Attorney's office in New Jersey announced this morning that they will review the bridge situation.
The traffic that ensued delayed not only commuters and school children, but emergency response personnel, according to a letter from Fort Lee, N.J., EMS coordinator Paul Favia to Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich.
Democrats alleged that Christie's staff sought to punish Sokolich for declining to endorse him. Christie, however has insisted that Sokolich was "never on my radar. I wouldn't be able to pick him out of a line up."
Christie traveled to Fort Lee to meet with Mayor Sokolich and Fort Lee residents Thursday afternoon.
After a more than 30-minute meeting with the mayor, Christie said "we had a good and productive meeting" and said "yes" when he was asked if he felt better afterward. He signed autographs and chatted with a residents.
And back in Trenton, the chairman of the state's transportation committee, New Jersey legislator John Wisniewski, said that Wildstein would not be the only Christie aide called to testify. Wisniewski said he would likely subpoena Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien next.
"I don't know about the governor's future at this point. He's in damage control," Wisniewski said.
He said there are between 3,000 and 5,000 pages of documents -- mostly e-mails -- that will be released to the press and public regarding the traffic scandal.
"I find it hard to believe Bridget Kelly came up with the decision herself," Wisniewski said, adding "It strains credibility that this was a rogue operation in the governor's office."
Meanwhile, the once local story has now become a national headline.
And as a potential 2016 presidential contender, the nation is watching how he manages this embarrassing and potentially politically dangerous situation on his own turf.
And the national parties are using the incident to chip away at Christie's national image.
"For 121 days, Chris Christie disparaged the questioners and later lied saying no one in his office was involved," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement Wednesday. "That was clearly untrue given the discovery of emails that came directly from his own top staff. Time's up, Governor."
Michael Falcone and Beth Lloyd contributed reporting.