One day after bombshell revelations implicated his top aides in a political revenge plot, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired a top aide and apologized for his staffers' part in the closing of several lanes on the George Washington Bridge in 2013.
Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, will be relieved from duty immediately, Christie said.
"I am responsible for what happened," Christie said.
Christie, who has built a national persona as a straight-shooting, no-nonsense governor, appears to have been caught flat-footed by emails that revealed the involvement of a top aide, his deputy chief of staff, in orchestrating a four-day traffic nightmarein September at the world's busiest bridge as political payback against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee Mark Sokolich.
At his news conference at 11 a.m. today, Christie, considered a frontrunner for the GOP presidential race in 2016, spoke publicly for the first time about the situation, which he has in the past tried to downplay.
"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," Christie said. "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."
Kelly's email were reveled on Wednesday in documents subpoenaed by Democrats in the State Assembly.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote in an Aug. 13 email sent from her personal account. "Got it," replied David Wildstein, one of Christie's top appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages jointly manages the GW Bridge.
Wildstein resigned from his post early December citing the bridge scandal as a "distraction." But he is deeply implicated in several emails that were subpoenaed by Democrats in the Assembly's investigation.
He is also expected to testify in the New Jersey State Assembly at noon.
Already, a New Jersey State Senator, Sen. Ray Lesniak told ABC News that he intends to request that federal prosecutors in New York and New Jersey open a criminal investigation into the actions that led to the lane closings on the approach to George Washington Bridge that snarled traffic in Ft. Lee, N.J.
The Department of Justice has declined to comment on the situation in New Jersey.
The traffic that ensued delayed not only commuters and school children, but emergency response personnel, according to a letter from Fort Lee, N.J., EMS coordinator Paul Favia to Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich.
Several other aides are named in the documents, including Bill Stepien, a top Christie aide who is now a consultant to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs, David Samson, a former New Jersey Attorney General who is the chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Port Authority, and Michael Drewniak, Christie's press secretary.
Bill Baroni, who was the executive director of the Port Authority, resigned at Christie's behest in December and is also a player in email and text messages.
Meanwhile, the once local story has become a national headline.
And as a potential 2016 presidential contender, the nation is watching how he manages this embarrassing and potentially politically dangerous situation on his own turf.
In a statement yesterday, Christie insisted that he was "misled" by his trusted aides about what happened with the lane closures.
But Democrats--who run the legislature in New Jersey--have hammered Christie for a culture of retribution and "bullying" in the state Capitol. And the national parties are using the incident to chip away at Christie's national image.
"For 121 days, Chris Christie disparaged the questioners and later lied saying no one in his office was involved," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement Wednesday. "That was clearly untrue given the discovery of emails that came directly from his own top staff. Time's up, Governor."