With Bill Baroni and David Wildstein forced to resign and Bridge Kelly fired, another top aide for Governor Chris Christie involved would be removed from their current role . Kelly's email to Wildstein provided caused another person to fall. Bill Stepien was poised to lead the New Jersey GOP and was a political consultant for the Republican Governors Association. Both of his roles would quickly be removed for the man who was Christie's former campaign manager. Stepien's ties to the letter and overall scandal were also too much for him to be unscathed.
The resignations and firings still left Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) wanting more information and answers. For Wisniewski,
No matter who’s fired or resigns, we still have questions without answers.
The next chapter would return to putting Wildstein under the spotlight with a hearing in Trenton. Using the Fifth Amendment to his advantage, Wildstein was silent during a crucial hearing in what has been a lengthy process of finding out information.
As Wildstein would state to the Assembly Transportation Committee,
Under the advice of counsel, I assert my right to remain silent.
Wisniewski would try to needle any pertinent information from Wildstein but "no answer" was the most he could seem to extract from him. Wisniewski has led the charge for subpoenaing those most prominently linked to the bridge incident last fall. The struggles and pushback by the Christie administration has at times frustrated Wisniewski.
If you ask any member of the Legislature if they’ve tried to get a Cabinet member to come to their committee to testify, if they’ve tried to get a meeting with somebody in the administration, it all runs through the Governor’s Office. And so it strains credibility to say that somebody in as high a position as a deputy chief of staff, somebody in has high a position as the governor principal press spokesperson, somebody in as high a position as his campaign manager — all those names are in these e-mails — did not ever communicate this to the governor. It strains credibility.
The fact that those individuals listed by Wisniewski have been linked to such a negative incident for the state, it does lead one to want more answers than are willingly given.
In an effort to get in front of what was becoming a bit of domino effect with one development after another, Christie would hold a news conference as he prepared to begin his second term.
As the governor would outline,
I come out here to this office where I’ve been many times before and I come out here today to apologize for the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the state Legislature. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people that we’re trusted to serve.
As he would continue,
Two pieces to what I want to talk about today. The first is, I believe that all of the people who were affected by this conduct deserve this apology and that’s why I’m giving it to them. I also need to apologize to them for my failure as the governor of this state to understand the true nature of this problem sooner than I did.
He would go into the termination of Kelly as a member of his staff and his recommendation to Stepien to step down from his position within the RGA. He would also speak to a staff meeting to inquire about any unreported facts to hold people accountable for their errors and allow him to further do damage control to this developing incident as well as take any necessary actions among his staff.
Christie would also utter,
I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here. Regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover, this was handled in a callous and indifferent way and it is not the way this administration has conducted itself over the last four years, and not the way it will conduct itself over the next four. I don’t know if this was a traffic study that morphed into a political vendetta, or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study," said the governor. It’s clear now that in the minds of some people there were political overtones or political side deals to this, and that’s unacceptable.
Among those responding to Christie's address was Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ12), who would exclaim;
The actions by Governor Christie’s administration that resulted in the lane closures on the nation’s busiest bridge are disgraceful and represent the worst type of political retaliation and abuse of public trust. Governor Christie must come clean, take full responsibility and explain in detail exactly what occurred. Today’s press conference served to raise more questions than it answered. All of the facts surrounding this incident must be put on the table immediately and any and all appropriate actions should be taken to hold everyone involved accountable.
Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ9) would add,
What I got from this press conference was he was making himself the victim. If you want me to believe that (Bridget Kelly) got up one morning…and concocted this idea of jamming the traffic of Fort Lee…I don’t believe that whatsoever.
Fort Lee is part of Pascrell's district.
The pair of congressmen weren't the only ones responding to Christie's comments and the overall scandal as a Rasmussen poll was taken asking voters if Christie should resign if he had any knowledge of the events that took place. 56% of likely voters said that Christie should resign if he knew what was transpiring with the lane closures. 54% also felt that it was at least somewhat likely the governor knew the closures were happening. 36% felt that Christie knew nothing. Not too surprisingly, how respondents felt matched roughly what you would think with party affiliation as 75% of Democrats thought he knew something while 34% of Republican said the same thing. 46% of unaffiliated and Independent voters felt he knew something.
Despite those numbers, Christie still had a 55% favorable rating to a 44% unfavorable rating. Those numbers were not much down from his pre-November 2013 numbers on the eve his reelection. The same poll also showed that 60% approved of the job he was doing compared to 37% who disapproved.
Beyond just his current job, the scandal could impact his potential future aspirations like running for president in 2016. The poll also showed 39% of voters saying they would be less likely to vote for him for president while 14% would be more likely after this scandal.
This poll was followed by more conversation around Christie resigning. The New Jersey Working Families Alliance would launch a petition that quickly drew over 20,000 signatures from the United States. While certainly a sizable amount, it is a very small percentage of the near 9 million New Jerseyans and more than 317 million in the country.
For Analilia Meija, the group's executive director,
Although he (Christie) said he has no idea what was going on, the reality is he's either lying to his constituents or he was shamefully oblivious what was going on feet away from him. Either scenario show he is unfit to be the governor's administration. This was disrespectful, outrageous behavior.
With speeches, reactions, and the situation continuing to intensify; more documents would soon come out that would add to the growing conversation.