New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) addressed a direct question on the George Washington Bridge scandal for the first time at a town hall since his hours-long press conference on the issue in January.
Christie was asked Thursday why he fired Bridget Anne Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff who sent messages to a Port Authority official declaring it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” triggering the September lane closures.
The questioner suggested Christie should’ve fired Kelly because she engaged in an illegal act, not because she lied to him about whether she was actually involved in the lane closures.
“There are lots of reasons for the firing, and what I said the day afterwards was that I can’t have somebody who works for me that lies to me, because that stuff can extend to a whole variety of subjects that are much broader than just the one that you talked about,” Christie responded.
He went on to clarify that though he gave as his rationale for the firing Kelly’s lying, the act itself was “absolutely unacceptable,” and she would’ve been fired even if she had told the truth.
“Do not take from my silence, on the act, that the act was countless, in fact the whole press conference was about the fact that what happened was absolutely unacceptable and that I didn’t know anything about it and if I had, I wouldn’t have permitted it,” he said.
Christie added that his emphasis was on the lie because he sees trust as paramount to his job as governor.
“I will tell you, as the guy in charge, that when you can’t count on people to tell you the truth in an enterprise this size, you’re sunk. And so that’s I think why I made the emphasis on it that I did, but please don’t take from it that I thought the underlying conduct was somehow OK because it was not,” he said.
He also said that he couldn’t comment on whether the act was illegal because of the ongoing investigations into the situation.
Christie didn't have to tackle a question on the issue during the six town-hall-style events he’s had across the state since the press conference, though he’s faced a number of hecklers and protesters who have referenced the scandal.
The governor previously cited the absence of direct questions on the situation as evidence New Jerseyans aren't concerned about it. But polling has indicated his perceived trustworthiness has taken a hit, and his standing in the field of prospective GOP presidential contenders has declined somewhat.