Besides firing Kelly, the governor asked a second onetime aide, former campaign manager Bill Stepien, to withdraw from a bid to become the next state GOP chairman. He said he was disturbed by the "callous indifference" displayed by Stepien in the emails released Wednesday.
Beyond the specifics of the lane closures, critics suggest the incident reflects a darker side ofChristie's brand of politics that contradicts the image he'd like to project as he eyes the presidency.
The governor repeatedly sidestepped criticism that he bullied adversaries in an overwhelming re-election victory in November.
"I am not a bully," he said.
Facing a little-known and underfunded opponent, he cast himself as a different kind of Republican: a compromising, consensus builder who ultimately earned strong support from minorities, union members and even many Democrats.
It was described as the opening argument for Christie's prospective White House run. That argument is now clouded, at least temporarily, during one of the most important transitions of his political career.
In less than two weeks, he is scheduled to celebrate his second inauguration in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on historic Ellis Island, a symbolic beginning to a second term designed to expand Christie's bipartisan appeal. He also is expected to unveil his second-term priorities — solidifying his presidential resume — in a state-of-the-state address later this month, while beginning an aggressive national travel schedule as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Wildstein, a childhood friend of the governor, is scheduled to testify later Thursday before a state Assembly committee. He asked a judge Thursday to quash the subpoena, but the judge refused to do so.
Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said the "revelations are troubling for any public official." But she said: "They also indicate what we've come to expect from Gov. Christie — when people oppose him, he exacts retribution. When people question him, he belittles and snidely jokes. And when anyone dares to look into his administration, he bullies and attacks."