WASHINGTON – An official probing orchestrated traffic jams on a major U.S. bridge said Sunday he had seen no proof Gov. Chris Christie ordered lane closures that hurt his White House hope.
Seen as a potential Republican standard-bearer for the 2016 U.S. presidential race, Christie has been on the defensive since it emerged his office was tied to bottlenecks on the George Washington Bridge last September.
The jams, which brought misery to commuters for several days, were apparently caused by senior local officials to punish a mayor who refused to endorse New Jersey Gov. Christie’s successful re-election bid.
“We don’t have any proof right now that the governor said ‘go and close the lanes,’ ” Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who heads the state legislature’s probe of the matter, told broadcaster NBC.
His comments came in the wake of a claim that Christie knew more than he has admitted about the plot. One former Port Authority official who oversaw the lane closures said the order to close access lanes to the bridge came from the Christie administration.
David Wildstein, who has known Christie since high school, also said that the governor was aware of the lane closures as they took place and caused traffic chaos.
High-profile Republicans were adamant Sunday that Christie should not resign from his post as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
The support from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan put Republicans on the offensive.
Also on Sunday, a member of Christie’s administration who was subpoenaed by lawmakers investigating the lane closings confirmed she had resigned. Christina Genovese Renna left the governor’s office Friday, according to her lawyer. Renna had reported to ousted Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, who apparently set the lane closings in motion with an email saying “time to cause some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Ryan, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” described Wildstein’s allegations as “one person’s word against the other” and added: “Nothing has been proven and you always give a person the benefit of the doubt in those kinds of situations.”
Jindal, last year’s RGA chairman, said Democrats who have called for Christie to step down from the RGA don’t understand the organization or the role of its chairman. “The reality is within RGA, no one governor is more important than the other,” he said.
The statement Sunday from Renna’s lawyer, Henry Klingeman, said she said been considering leaving since after the November election, which Christie won decisively. She said the transition to a second term is a “natural time” to pursue opportunities in the private sector.