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Partisans split over scandal fallout for Christie

January 12, 2014

TRENTON, New Jersey (AP) — Prominent Republicans leapt to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s defense on Sunday, insisting that an ongoing traffic scandal wouldn’t ruin any presidential ambitions, while Democrats say it’s difficult to believe such a hands-on manager knew nothing about a plan by a top aide to close lanes at a bridge into New York City.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle took to the Sunday television talk shows to debate the fallout from the traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge in September and any role Christie may have played. Documents show Christie’s aides appeared to engineer lane closures at the heavily traveled bridge for political retribution.

Christie has been considered an early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination after a landslide re-election victory last November in which he drew considerable support from traditional Democratic constituencies in New Jersey. But just two months later his political prospects have taken a hit as emails were made public implicating some of his top aides in the bridge traffic scandal.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Christie could move past the scandal and still win support from primary voters in the 2016 presidential race.

He said Christie demonstrated leadership by holding a lengthy news conference Thursday to apologize for the scandal, the most serious challenge to his political career, and to disavow any knowledge of its planning..

“America’s a forgiving people, but they’re forgiving when you take ownership, you admit mistakes, you take corrective action, and that’s what Chris Christie showed,” Priebus said.

Christie said he was “embarrassed and humiliated” by the conduct of some of his staff, including top aide Bridget Anne Kelly, whom he fired after learning she gave the go-ahead to close several lanes approaching the bridge. Christie said he was “blindsided” by the revelations, which he said he discovered when subpoenaed emails were released last week.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a New Jersey Democrat leading the legislative investigation into the traffic jams, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” there’s no evidence Christie was directly involved in the traffic tie-up. But he said the governor didn’t have to know about the lane closures for them to be a crime.

“When you use the George Washington Bridge for what the emails show to be a political payback, that amounts to using public property for a private purpose or for a political purpose, and that’s not legal,” Wisniewski said.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he found Christie’s explanation “pretty darn credible” that he didn’t know what members of his inner circle were up to while he was running for re-election.

“He was in campaign mode,” Giuliani said. “You miss a lot of things. You’re not paying as much attention.”

Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee whose town was clogged with traffic, said he wanted to believe Christie’s staffers acted without his knowledge but was having a tough time buying it.

“Anything his name was even remotely involved in, he was involved in,” said Sokolich, who met with Christie on Thursday, when the governor traveled to Fort Lee to apologize personally. The traffic delayed emergency vehicles and school buses and infuriated commuters in his town.

Sokolich, who had initially urged the governor to stay away, said afterward that the meeting was productive.

“I’m taking him at his word,” he said Sunday. “There’s just a lot of stuff there, though.”

Fox News Sunday political analyst Juan Williams said the scandal gives wider berth to conservatives already wary of Christie for signing a bill lowering college tuition costs for New Jersey students in the U.S. illegally and embracing President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey Shore.

“Right now, it looks like there’s a blockage on the long bridge to 2016 for Chris Christie,” Williams said.

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