TRENTON, N.J. - Republican Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his top aides on Thursday and apologized repeatedly for his staff's "stupid" behavior, insisting during a nearly two-hour news conference that he had no idea anyone around him had engineered traffic jams as part of a political vendetta against a Democratic mayor.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team," Christie said as he addressed the widening scandal, which could cast a shadow over his expected run for the White House in 2016.
The famously blunt governor fielded dozens of questions from reporters with uncharacteristic patience and at times a sorrowful tone.
Christie, who had previously assured the public that his staff had nothing to do with the September lane closings that caused major backups at the George Washington Bridge, 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.
The gridlock in Fort Lee delayed emergency vehicles, school buses and countless commuters for four days.
Kelly was the latest casualty in the scandal. Two other top Christie appointees have resigned in the past few weeks.
The investigation broke wide open on Wednesday, with the release of emails and text messages that suggested Kelly arranged the traffic jams to punish Fort Lee's mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
In other developments:
- The chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, said he is "reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated." The Legislature also is investigating. Using public resources for political ends can be a crime. Democratic Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a former prosecutor and mayor, said there was "no doubt" a crime was committed.
- David Wildstein, a Christie appointee who resigned from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after being implicated in the scandal, was found in contempt by a legislative committee on Thursday after he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions. The Port Authority operates the bridge and other area bridges and transit hubs.
- Christie traveled to Fort Lee later in the day and apologized in person to Mayor Mark Sokolich. Christie said they had a "productive meeting," and Sokolich told The Record newspaper the governor had taken "a big step" toward regaining the trust of Fort Lee's residents.
- Six state residents, though, filed a federal lawsuit against Christie, the state, the Port Authority and others, calling the traffic jams "deliberate actions."