Governor Chris Christie apologized Thursday for what he called “callous” and “stupid” behavior by members of his inner circle. They allegedly caused chaos at a major on-ramp to the world's busiest bridge, the George Washington Bridge, as political payback.The target of the scheme was Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie’s re-election campaign. The FBI is now helping New Jersey's U.S. attorney find out if any federal laws were broken.
Sokolich had asked Christie to stay out of Fort Lee, but the governor came anyway to personally deliver his apology.
“We're appreciative of the fact that he's taken what we believe to be a big step in regaining the trust of our community and quite frankly this region,” said Sokolich.
Earlier Thursday, during a nearly two-hour long marathon press conference, the normally brash Christie appeared humbled and full of remorse, apologizing “to the people of Fort Lee.” He also moved swiftly to clean house and said he fired Bridget Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, and cut ties with his confident and former campaign manager Bill Stepien.
The scandal is now shaping up to be the biggest test yet of Christie's political career.
Republican strategist and CBS News political analyst Frank Luntz consults with chief executive officers and politicians on crisis communication. Luntz told the “CBS This Morning” co-hosts that he had never seen a “politician stand up and take press challenges for literally two hours.”
“He apologized 20 times in the one-hour, roughly, 49
minutes that he spoke,” said Luntz.
Luntz also said that for Christie, this is an “actual crisis.”
“Your responsibility as governor is to improve the quality of life of your people – whether it’s you or your administration,” he said. “When they deliberately go out and try to make things worse, you have to demonstrate accountability and heads roll, already two people have lost their jobs. I would say that the public in New Jersey would want those people prosecuted. It’s not enough to quit – it should go even further.”
Christie spoke for 107 minutes and took 90 questions. “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell asked Luntz if Christie spoke too long and if the governor could have said something that will trip him up in the future. Luntz answered by saying that Christie did not handle himself in the same way as other politicians.
“The fact that he’s willing to take every question from every reporter until the last question was asked – we’ve seen this 100 times before,” he said. “They go running out after 10 minutes. They deliver their official text. They read it. He didn’t. They get out of there as fast as they can. He didn’t. They’re shouting questions as he’s leaving – in this case, he’s leaving and everyone was silent because every question was asked.”
However, Luntz explained that he has to have been “telling the truth” for the press conference to have been effective.
“If it is shown that he knew about this, then he’s done,” said Luntz. “Provided that that does not happen, he’s held himself accountable and this is what the public hates about politicians, that they find any excuse or weasel words to get out of it. He used the word ‘humiliated,’ that is about as strong as you can get in any apology.”
CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer told the “CBS This Morning” co-hosts that he “can’t remember a news conference like this” and it was “just extraordinary.”
“The question is ‘did it work?’” said Schieffer. “They teach you in journalism school, when you’re doing an analysis, the one thing you never do is end it by saying ‘only time will tell,’ but in this case, I think time will tell.”
Schieffer said that if his story holds up, meaning everything that Christie said at his press conference “proves to be true,” that he will “go on to fight another day.”
“But, if there is one shred, one scintilla of evidence that in fact, he did know about it - I think he’s finished and I think there’s no place to go after that,” he said.