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Gov. Christie, on radio show, denies knowing about NJ lane closures

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[February 04, 2014]  By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters)  As documents subpoenaed by investigating New Jersey lawmakers began pouring in on Monday, Governor Chris Christie said he "unequivocally" had no knowledge of a plan by some of his top aides to snarl traffic near the busy George Washington Bridge.

During a mostly friendly hourlong "Ask the Governor" session on local radio, Christie, a likely Republican candidate for the White House in 2016, said he was awaiting "all the facts," but would not allow the scandal known as "Bridgegate" to distract him from running that state.

"The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close those lanes?" Christie said. "And the answer is still the same. Unequivocally no."

"I'll be damned if I let anything get in the way of me doing my job," he said.

Federal prosecutors and the Democrat-controlled state legislature have opened probes into the incident last September, in which top aides to Christie ordered the closure of access lanes to the busy George Washington Bridge, which spans New Jersey and Manhattan.

The closures, which came in the midst of Christie's re-election campaign and after the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee declined to endorse Christie's bid, caused a massive traffic snarl over four days in the town across the river from New York City.

Christie has said repeatedly he was unaware of his aides' actions, and last month fired his deputy chief of staff and severed ties with a longtime political advisor in connection with the lane closures.

Still, the scandal has hurt his image and polls show him losing ground as a potential presidential contender.

Pressure mounted on Christie last Friday when David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who personally oversaw the lane closures, told the authority that "evidence exists" Christie knew about the lane closures. Wildstein resigned late last year.

Wildstein offered no details, and Christie's office quickly launched a counter-attack challenging his credibility.

"Bottom line  David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein," Christie's office said in an email to supporters.

Christie did not mention Wildstein by name during the radio interview. But he did say he feels a "game of gotcha" has been underway.

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Top Christie aides and the governor's re-election campaign were among those subpoenaed by state lawmakers investigating the matter, and documents began arriving on Monday.

The lawmakers did not give details of the documents they had received, and said in a statement that many people had been granted extensions "as is typical in such situations."

One aide served with a subpoena, Christie's director of intergovernmental affairs, Christina Renna, said on Sunday through her lawyer that she had resigned. In a statement, Renna said her departure was long planned so she could "pursue an opportunity in the private sector."

While Christie has not been directly implicated in the scandal, he has struggled to counter questions about his truthfulness and the tactics of his administration.

Over the last month, several other Democratic officials in the state have come forward with other accusations.

The Democratic mayor of Hoboken has said that people close to the governor withheld storm aid as a condition of the city supporting a development deal. The administration has denied the allegation, which is now the subject of a federal investigation.

Christie's approval rating among New Jersey voters, at 65 percent just before his re-election last year, has slid to 46 percent, a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released last month showed.

(Editing by Peter Henderson and Lisa Shumaker)

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