In our conversation Friday, I ran by Gov. Chris Christie several of the main criticisms I’d heard leveled at him in the previous days in connection with New Jersey’s growing bridge scandal. Here are some of his responses.
Whether or not you knew about the plan to disrupt traffic, you created the climate of intimidation that made it possible.
“I think in the totality of circumstances, it’s wrong. I mean, you’ve seen more bipartisan accomplishments in this administration, I would argue, than maybe almost any in the country. And if what you’re doing all the time is looking for ways to reach out and looking for ways to build compromise, then I think that’s wrong. Now, politics in New Jersey isn’t beanbag, OK? And there are people on the other side of the aisle who come after me, and I also will have sharp elbows when I need to. But that is far short of creating a climate of intimidation in this state. I’m a strong governor, and I’m a tough leader, and I work as hard as I can to get things done. And everything I do is geared toward trying to get things done.”
You couldn’t have not known what was happening. The central figure, the former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, was one of your own most senior aides.
“In town hall meetings all the time, and I know you’ve been to some of them, I often have said to members of the public, when they bring up an issue that I wasn’t aware of – you know, I can’t get my check for this or I can’t get a permit for that – I say, you know what one of the scariest things about being governor is? The fact that every day, 65,000 people have letterhead with my name on it and I don’t know what they’re doing all day.
Now I understand that people say well, this isn’t one of the 65,000 — this is someone in your office. You know, the fact is, as I said at the press conference, Matt, if someone doesn’t tell you the truth, there is often very little you can do in reaction to that. So, no, anyone who would say that has no appreciation for what it’s like to be governor or, frankly, chief executive of any kind of major organization.
That’s like saying any of these folks who’ve been in trouble in the banking industry, like the JPMorgan Chase thing – how could Jamie Dimon not have known about a trade that was being put on by a trader in London? Well, you know, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Jamie Dimon didn’t know that a trade was being put on, and that when people lied about it, he didn’t know they were lying. So it happens. It’s awful when it does. Because it’s a breach of trust.
So I think that’s a ridiculous criticism and kind of an ignorant one.”
Some people say you see yourself as the victim here, rather than the people of Fort Lee. At the news conference you gave, it was all about you, and how someone lied to you.
“Well listen, they didn’t listen to me closely then. I said a number of times during that press conference that what happened here was wrong and unacceptable. And I think I said that people showed callous disregard for the public. I mean, I don’t know how much more strong you can be than that.
Matt, when you go out there as governor, and you get asked, ‘Did you have any knowledge that any of this was going on or had any role in it?’ and you look in the camera and you say, ‘I’ve asked them all, and they’ve assured me no,’ and then you have to come back out, almost four weeks later, and say that happens not to be the case? Well, you need to explain that, too. And the explanation of me saying ‘I was lied to’ was not me playing victim. It was me taking responsibility.
Listen, ultimately I’m responsible for everything that happens in the government, even if I didn’t know about it. There’s no one else standing up there. It was me.”