Last Updated Nov 7, 2016 3:22 AM EST
Speaking publicly for the first time about the conviction of two former allies in the Bridgegate scandal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the plot to punish a northern N.J. mayor for not endorsing his re-election "one of the most abjectly stupid things I've ever seen."
Two former aides were convicted Friday for creating a massive traffic jam as political payback. Prosecutors said the motive for the 2013 closures, which lasted nearly five days, was political revenge by punishing a city in New Jersey with crippling traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge after Fort Lee's Democratic Mayor, Mark Sokolich, refused to endorse Christie for re-election.
The jury took five days to find former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority official Bill Baroni guilty of seven charges. Former Port Authority official and confessed mastermind David Wildstein had pleaded guilty and appeared as the government's star witness.
Four witnesses testified Christie was aware of the closures at the time, which he denies. The governor, who provided 12 hours of sworn testimony, was not charged in the case, but the scandal derailed his presidential campaign.
Christie, who is in charge of Donald Trump's White House transition team, said in a statement Friday: "Let me be clear once again: I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments."
"CBS This Morning" co-anchor Charlie Rose asked Christie about his reaction to the verdict.
"My first reaction was that the jury confirmed what I thought on January 9, 2014, nearly three years ago," Christie said. "I had 24 hours to make decisions back then. And I felt there were three people responsible: David Wildstein, Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly. And now here we are, three investigations later, federal grand jury investigation, an investigation by a Democratic-led legislature, and what's the conclusion? The conclusion is that there were three people responsible."
"What does it say about you and your staff, that these people who worked for you did this?"
"I thought about this in the last week. I've had 25 people serve on my senior staff over seven years, and had one person who didn't get it. One out of 25. So I don't think it says anything about me. I think it says everything about that person."
"Why do you think she did it?" Rose asked.
"Wish I knew, Charlie. I wish I knew. I never could figure it out. It was one of the most abjectly stupid things I've ever seen. I mean, think about it. You know me. I'm pretty good at this political game. I'm up by 25 points in a reelection in a blue state. And they decide they're gonna create a traffic jam in a town that's a Democrat town, that I wound up winning two months later in the election?"
"Well, it was stupid on the face," said Rose.
"Absolutely stupid on the face."
"As determined by the jury."
"But it is not just her. David said that he told you about it at the 9/11 Memorial --"
"Yeah. That's not what he said, by the way.
" -- and that you laughed."
"No. The first thing he said was that Bill Baroni told me. Told me what? Even Wildstein said that all Baroni said to me was that there was traffic at the George Washington Bridge and that the mayor was not getting his phone calls returned.
"Now, Charlie, I have to tell ya', I have absolutely no recollection of any of them saying anything like that. So let's be clear. But even if they had, there's not –"
"So you're saying you have no recollection?" Rose asked. "You're not saying, 'I can swear to you that they never said anything like this'? You're saying, 'I don't remember'?"
"I don't remember any -- but what I will tell you is this, Charlie: If they would have told me that, 'Hey, we're creating traffic in the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the mayor for not endorsing you' I would have remembered that. And they never said that.
"By the way, Charlie, I think this is a really important point: In the whole trial no one, not even Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni or David Wildstein, ever testified that anyone ever said to me that this was an act of political retribution."
The Washington Post wrote that Christie's political career had "sustained a serious blow" from the Bridgegate convictions, with job approval ratings at their lowest point ever (at 21%). "It taints his legacy," Montclair State University law professor Brigid Harrison told the Post.
A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll last month found more than half of voters (52 percent) believed there was "sufficient proof" that Christie knew of the lane closures and didn't try to stop them.
Rose asked about the impression that "something happened at Bridgegate, at the trial and the events there, that have come down on top of you."
In what way? "The fact is that if people, if the media and others attack you relentlessly for three years, and you cannot defend yourself because you are in the middle of cooperating in a judicial process and cannot stain that process, then if there's only one line of information, that people will believe the line of information they're being given. But, you know, anything like that from the Washington Post or anybody else, that's a snapshot in time, Charlie. And now I can talk."
"But these are reporters who were covering the trial."
"No, no. Their conclusion is a snapshot in time. I can't tell you how many times I've been told my political career was over. Here I am."
Rose also asked Christie about how the Bridgegate scandal affected his consideration as Donald Trump's running mate.
"There's a belief by some that without Bridgegate you would have been the nominee for vice president, selected by Donald Trump, "Rose said. "And in fact he told you that you were his guy."
"He never said that?"
"He never said to you, 'I want you to run with me.'"
"No. Never did," Christie said.
The governor also said he does not believe he didn't get the nomination because of Bridgegate.
"You don't think it had any impact?" Rose asked.
"I didn't say that," Christie replied. "I can't measure -- you'd have to ask Donald Trump. But Donald Trump didn't call me and say, 'You're not gonna be vice president because of Bridgegate.'"
"But did he suggest to you [that] you might be vice president?"
"Well, I was certainly being considered. I was among the last two."
And the reason he thinks why Trump chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence? "I think he thought Mike was the better choice."
"Because Mike didn't have the political baggage that you might have had from Bridgegate?"
"We all have political baggage," Christie replied.
Rose asked the governor what he expected to happen on Election Day. He said Trump would win. "The momentum's in his direction. I think the country desperately wants a change."
When asked if he wants to be Trump's attorney general if he wins, Christie responded, "I don't necessarily want to be anything, except helpful to him."
When asked if he regretted not running for president in 2012, instead of running this year against a field of 16 other GOP hopefuls and perhaps missing his chance, Christie said, "I wasn't ready to be president in 2011. I wasn't ready. And Charlie, you know what'd be worse than not being president for me? Would be being president when I was [not ready]. You betcha. You don't wanna be the dog who catches the garbage truck, Charlie, and figuring out what to do once you get there.
"In 2016 I was ready to be president. And I wanted to be president. But so did 16 other people in my party. And it came down to one person who now has the chance to be elected on Tuesday."
Rose asked, "Do you intend to run for elected office again?"
"We'll see. Right now I don't, but, you know, you never say never in this life, Charlie."