WASHINGTON -- With the "Bridgegate" scandal hanging over his administration, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) took a moment at the beginning of his State of the State address Tuesday to address the controversy.
"The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better. Much better," he said. "I'm the governor and I'm ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch -- both good and bad. Now without a doubt we will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure this breach of trust does not happen again."
"But I also want to assure the people of New Jersey today that what has occurred does not define us or our state," he added. "This administration and this legislature will not allow the work that needs to be done to improve the people's lives in New Jersey to be delayed. I am the leader of this state and its people and I stand here today proud to be both. And always determined to do better."
Governors typically use state of the state addresses, given at the start of each year, to put forward big policy ideas. But while Christie's aides were promoting the governor's ideas on education reform in the lead-up to the speech, the scandal that has engulfed his administration in the past week was hard to ignore.
There is no evidence that Christie was directly involved in intentionally closing two of the three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., a move that created massive traffic jams from Sept. 9 to 13. But one of his deputy chiefs of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, participated in the scheme, along with two of his appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Until last week, members of the Christie administration -- and the governor himself -- claimed that the access lanes were shut down as part of a traffic study. But emails and text messages released last week indicate there was a pettier, more political motive at play, and that the closures were possibly intended as retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who did not endorse Christie's reelection bid.
Christie has attempted to distance himself from the whole episode, insisting he had no knowledge of the plot until media outlets started reporting on it. But on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that David Wildstein, the Port Authority official at the heart of the scandal, was with Christie on Sept. 11, although it's unclear what they discussed.
A recent Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll found that half of the adults in New Jersey believe Christie has not been "completely honest" about his role in the incident.
The New Jersey state Assembly, meanwhile, announced Monday that it was creating a special investigatory panel to continue looking into the lane closures.