Skip to main content

Combative Christie is back, reporters learn the hard way

By Tom Cohen and Steve Kastenbaum, CNN
updated 8:44 PM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New Jersey governor takes on reporters at sometimes heated news conference
  • Get your facts straight, Christie snaps in response to hostile questions
  • His trademark gruffness returns with an internal report clearing him in the Fort Lee traffic controversy
  • Federal and state investigations continue into the possibly politically motivated traffic snarls

Trenton, New Jersey (CNN) -- He's baaaaack.

The defiant and combative Chris Christie that reporters knew from the past returned in full spring bloom on Friday, now that a report he commissioned cleared him of wrongdoing in the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy.

A few minutes into his first news conference in more than two months, New Jersey's Republican governor flashed his famous cantankerousness at suggestions he was hiding something about the apparently politically motivated traffic jams last September in Fort Lee.

"Colorful," he interjected as one journalist asked an extended question. "Can you get to it already?"

Later, he cut off a reporter to complain she was wrong about the timing of events in December.

See Christie, reporter heated exchange
Inside Politics: Former staffers stupid

"Stop," he said, insisting that "you have to get the facts right if you're going to ask the question."

When the journalist persisted, Christie cut in with "excuse me, excuse me" and then moved on by saying "the premise of the question is so infirm I'm not going to answer it."

Christie's feisty approach had been missing of late, especially during his previous news conference in January that lasted almost two hours as the governor faced questions about the scandal labeled Bridgegate by Democratic foes.

Separate federal and state investigations continue, but the report released this week found no evidence that Christie was involved in possible political retribution against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for not endorsing his re-election.

Christie holds first news conference in two months

Christie called the report exhaustive while critics labeled it a whitewash. Regardless of perspective, it gave Christie renewed vigor to face public questioning on the issue during Friday's news conference that lasted just over an hour.

The return of his trademark gruffness provides multiple benefits for Christie, who easily won re-election last year in traditionally Democratic New Jersey and now has possible ambitions for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

He tightly managed Friday's news conference, basically telling journalists that he didn't care if they liked his answers or not.

More importantly, his tough tactics play well among media-hating conservatives he will need to win the Republican nomination two years from now, if he runs.

Some on the political right mistrust Christie because of moderate positions on issues such as gay marriage, as well as his public support for President Barack Obama as they toured the damage from Superstorm Sandy days before Obama's reelection in 2012.

"Now that he's been self-exonerated, it appears that he's decided to dispense with his faux humility of the past few months," Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Eleithee said of the governor.

One particularly heated exchange involved Bridget Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff whose now-infamous email "Time for some Traffic problems in Fort Lee" propelled what was a little noticed local controversy into an outright political crisis for the governor.

Christie said he canned Kelly for lying to him, and he decided against meeting with her before the firing to avoid any perception of coercion or intimidation on the matter.

When a reporter persisted on the topic, Christie exploded at the premise of the question.

"I don't know whether you can't take notes or you're not listening, but for you to characterize my last answer that I didn't want to ask her because I didn't want to know is so awful that it is beneath the job you hold," he said.

Christie saved his best for last, concluding the more than hour-long session by sarcastically telling reporters "it's such a joy and relief to be finally able to come back and interact with you in the kind and gentle way we always have."

"I'd love to say I missed you," he added, "but I didn't."

CNN's Steve Kastenbaum reported from Trenton for this story, which was written by Tom Cohen in Washington.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT