Christie ready to put Bridge Scandal behind him

ByJill Colvin AP logo
Saturday, May 9, 2015

NEW HAMPSHIRE -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that he's moving on from the bridge scandal that has badly tarnished his presidential prospects and is done apologizing for the actions of his former allies.

Christie was wrapping up a town hall event at Fury's Publick House bar in Dover Friday evening when he was confronted with the issue by a woman who said she was born and raised in New Jersey and was "beyond horrified" by the incident - which she said reminded her of feudal times, when a king didn't care about his peasants.

"I'm worried about having a president who has people around him who think that that's OK," she said.

Christie had largely avoided the issue during his trip to New Hampshire. Last week, his former deputy chief of staff and a top appointee at the authority that controls the George Washington Bridge were indicted for shutting access lanes to the bridge to punish a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse Christie's re-election. Another former ally pleaded guilty.

Christie, who has always maintained he was unaware of the scheme, told the woman the news had hit him like a "two-by-four" and said he shared her outrage.

Still, he argued that leaders can't guarantee the people they hire will never make mistakes and said he should instead be judged by how he responded.

"When I found out about it I acted immediately, I acted decisively, I made myself open to anybody who had questions about this and participated fully in it and demanded that everybody that works for me do exactly the same thing. And it has been a painful process," he said.

Christie went on to say he was ready to move past the scandal.

"I'm not proud or happy of what happened, but I'm going to stop apologizing for it too, because I've said my piece to the people of my state and the people of Fort Lee who were affected," he said. "I'm moving on from it now because I've lived through 15 months of three investigations that have now confirmed everything I said 15 months ago."

Christie has spent the last two days crisscrossing the early-voting state ahead of an expected presidential bid. His trip included a visit to a drug treatment center, several meet-and-greets and the town hall at Fury's. He told people here he intends to visit often and will be back next week to deliver an economic policy speech.

Earlier Friday, Christie said the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records should continue and the Patriot Act should be renewed in its current form.

Christie said he doesn't see the government's collection of phone records as an overreach. A federal appeals court has ruled the practice illegal because Congress didn't authorize it.

"I think it can be done in a way that's not only constitutional, but protects national security," he said after greeting voters eating breakfast. "I'm not one of these folks who believe that we should bring our guard down, especially during this really dangerous time."

The NSA's collection and storage of U.S. landline calling records, including the times, dates and numbers - but not content - of calls was disclosed in 2013 by former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden.

Christie said he believes Congress can provide "appropriate oversight" of the program.

Christie, who served as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey before he was elected governor and was named to the post the day before the 2001 terrorist attacks, also called on Congress to renew the Patriot Act, parts of which are set to expire June 1.

"I'm probably the only person in these discussions who've actually used it and I know how important a tool the Patriot Act is to help to prevent terrorism, to intercede before a terrorist act occurs," he said. "And I'm not somebody who's going to back off at all from the Patriot Act."

Christie has generally taken a harder line than some of his rivals when it comes to national security issues.