New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) denied Thursday that he “inspired” the George Washington Bridge scandal that created a traffic jam on the world’s busiest bridge last September.
He made the comment in his first TV interview since the scandal unraveled in January, which aired on ABC’s “World News With Diane Sawyer” on Thursday evening.
“I spent a lot of time the last 11 weeks thinking about what did I do if I did anything to contribute to this,” Christie said. “I don’t believe that I did.”
“When things were first reported, I said this couldn’t possibly be true because who would do something like that? Sometimes people do inextricably stupid things,” Christie said. “And so that’s what makes it so hard then as the guy in charge because none of it made any sense to him. And to some extent, still does not.”
Sawyer interviewed Christie and his wife, Mary Pat Christie, from their home in Mendham Township, N.J., in the afternoon.
Christie, a potential 2016 presidential contender, said he has struggled because of the scandal, which was fully exposed nearly four months ago. Before that, he had been considered the likely GOP frontrunner.
His remarks come the same day a report was released from an internal investigation into the bridge scandal and allegations over the distribution of Hurricane Sandy recovery funds. Lawyers he appointed absolved Christie on both issues.
“I do believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Christie said. “It’s been a very, very tough time professionally. Not the toughest time in my life, but certainly the toughest time in my life professionally.”
The report, released by law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, said no concrete evidence existed that indicated Christie knew of the bridge’s lane closures last September in advance.
“That’s the truth,” Christie said about the inquiry’s conclusion.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claims that the Christie administration threatened to withhold Sandy aid if she didn’t endorse a development project were “demonstrably false,” the report also concluded.
Christie ordered for the law firm to conduct the probe, which costs taxpayers more than $1 million. Some have already raised questions about its reliability.
Lawyers who investigated, for example, failed to interview major players in the bridge scandal such as Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, former campaign manager Bill Stepien and former Port Authority official of New York and New Jersey David Wildstein.
A partner at the law firm is also reportedly a friend of Christie’s.
“First off, these are not my lawyers,” Christie said. “Bottom line is, these people have their own professional and personal reputations.”
Meanwhile, two separate government investigations by the New Jersey state legislature and federal officials are still pending.
Lawyers who compiled the internal review looked through more than 250,000 documents, including Christies’ and his senior staffers’ text messages and personal emails, the report said. More than 70 people were also interviewed.
One key finding in the report suggested Christie was made aware of the traffic jam near Fort Lee, N.J., during the lane closures from Sept. 9 to 12.
Wildstein said he told Christie about it at a Sept. 11 memorial event, according to Christie’s press secretary Michael Drewniak. Wildstein told Drewniak about the encounter at a dinner in December before Wildstein resigned from his position at the Port Authority.
Christie said “I don’t have any recollection of that,” and added Wildstein was one of hundreds of people he spoke to that day.
“I’ll tell you what he didn’t say,” Christie said. “He didn’t say ‘By the way governor, I’m closing down some lanes on the George Washington Bridge to stick it to the mayor. Is that OK?’ That, I’d remember.”
Asked if the scandal has torpedoed a possible 2016 White House bid, Christie said “no.”
“I haven’t made a decision on 2016, and I don’t intend to make a decision on 2016 until a year from now. But it won’t have anything to do with what has happened the past 10 weeks.”
If anything, Christie said the experience will make him “a better leader.”
This story was updated at 7:28 p.m.