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FORT LEE, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie has arrived in a northern New Jersey borough to apologize in person to the mayor for traffic jams that were apparently created as political payback.
 
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had urged the governor not to make the trip late Thursday, though he said he accepts the governor's apology. Sokolich wants to see if more details emerge from various investigations.
 
Christie did not comment as he entered the Fort Lee municipal building.
 
The governor publicly apologized at a Trenton news conference Thursday morning after emails seemed to show an aide wanted highway lanes near the George Washington Bridge closed in September because the mayor wasn't endorsing Christie.
 
Christie fired the aide.
 
Sokolich says he hopes Christie will apologize again if investigations reveal additional misconduct.
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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday apologized for highway lane closures apparently ordered by his aides as political retribution, said he had "no knowledge or involvement" in what happened and sought to assure New Jerseyans the actions are not typical of the way his administration does business.

"This is the exception, not the rule," he told a news conference.

Christie, who had previously assured the public his staff had no involvement in the road closings, said he had fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly "because she lied to me."

Kelly was the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election.

The revelations thrust a regional transportation issue into a national conversation raising new questions about the ambitious governor's leadership on the eve of a second term designed to jumpstart his road to the White House.

The U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Paul Fishman, said he was "reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated." The legislature is also investigating.

Christie on Thursday focused repeatedly not on the closures themselves but on how upset he was that his staff didn't tell him the truth when asked about the closures.

"What did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me?" he asked.

Email and text messages obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press and other news organizations indicated that the lane closings were retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie for re-election last fall.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote in August in a message to David Wildstein, a top Christie appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

A few weeks later, Wildstein closed two of three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the heavily-traveled George Washington Bridge, which runs between New Jersey and New York City. He also told him he didn't want him working any longe3r as a consultant to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie heads this year.

The messages do not directly implicate Christie, but they contradicted his assertions that the closings were not punitive and that his staff was not involved.

Christie acknowledged Thursday that was a lie, because his staff didn't tell him what they had done.

He also said he had "no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution" and was stunned by the "abject stupidity that was shown." He said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by his staff. At the same time, he said he accepted responsibility.

"I am responsible for what happened. I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short," he said.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich called it "appalling" that the traffic jams appear to have been deliberately created.

Christie said he would go to Fort Lee on Thursday to apologize to Sokolich.

Kelly hasn't commented, and Christie said he hadn't spoken to her since the emails were released.

Besides firing Kelly, the governor asked a second trusted 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 of Christie'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 squash 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."

___

Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is expected to rein in spying on foreign leaders and is considering restricting National Security Agency access to Americans' phone records, according to people familiar with a White House review of the government's surveillance programs.

Obama could unveil his highly anticipated decisions as early as next week. On Thursday, the president is expected to discuss his review with congressional lawmakers, while his top lawyer plans to meet with privacy groups. Representatives from tech companies are meeting with White House staff on Friday.

The White House says Obama is still collecting information before making final decisions.

Among the changes Obama is expected to announce is more oversight of the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, a classified document that ranks U.S. intelligence-gathering priorities and is used to make decisions on scrutiny of foreign leaders. A presidential review board has recommended increasing the number of policy officials who help establish those priorities, and that could result in limits on surveillance of allies.

Documents released by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. was monitoring the communications of several friendly foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The revelations outraged Merkel as well as other leaders, and U.S. officials say the disclosures have damaged Obama's relations around the world.

Obama and Merkel spoke by phone Wednesday, but U.S. officials would not say whether they discussed the NSA issues.

The president also is said to be considering one of the review board's most aggressive recommendations, a proposal to strip the NSA of its ability to store telephone records from millions of Americans and instead have phone companies or a third party hold the records. The NSA would be able to access the records only by obtaining separate court approval for each search, though exceptions could be made in the case of a national security emergency.

It's unclear whether Obama will ultimately back the proposal or how quickly it could be carried out if he does.

Before making his final decisions, the president was supposed to receive a separate report from a semi-independent commission known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which was created by Congress. However, that panel's report has been delayed without explanation until at least late January, meaning it won't reach the president until after he makes his decisions public.

Members of that oversight board met with Obama on Wednesday and have briefed other administration officials on some of their preliminary findings. In a statement, the five-member panel said its meeting with the president focused on the NSA phone collection program and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the data sweeps.

It's unclear why Obama will announce his recommendations before receiving the report from the privacy and civil liberties board. One official familiar with the review process said some White House officials were puzzled by the board's delay. The report would still be available to Congress, where legislators are grappling with several bills aimed at dismantling or preserving the NSA's authority.

That official and those familiar with the White House review insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the process by name.

Obama also met Wednesday with members of the U.S. intelligence community, which largely supports keeping the NSA surveillance programs intact.

Shortly after receiving the review board recommendations last month, Obama signaled that he could be open to significant surveillance changes, including to the bulk collecting of phone records.

"There are ways we can do it, potentially, that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances — that there's sufficient oversight and sufficient transparency," Obama said at a Dec. 20 news conference. He added that programs like the bulk collection "could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse."

The president also has backed the idea of adding a public advocate position to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which rules on many of the domestic surveillance decisions. The court typically hears only from the government as it decides cases, and the advocate would represent privacy and civil liberties concerns.

That review followed disclosures from Snowden, who leaked details of several secret government programs. He faces espionage charges in the U.S., but has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

While Obama has said he welcomes the review, it's unlikely it would have occurred without Snowden's disclosures.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA's bulk collection program appeared to violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches, but he didn't issue a preliminary injunction against unreasonable searches because of expected appeals. Late Wednesday, Justice Department lawyers asked Leon to halt further proceedings in his court on the NSA case and a second NSA-related lawsuit until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit hears the government's appeal of his December ruling.

Government lawyers said they were asking for the judicial stay from Leon because they were concerned that further court proceedings could jeopardize classified information about the surveillance program.

Larry Klayman, the conservative lawyer who filed the suit, has said he plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

___

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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