Already enmeshed in a scandal over snarled traffic at the George
Washington Bridge, Christie, a likely 2016 Republican presidential
contender, is now being audited by the Inspector General at the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency spokesman
The probe began after HUD received a request from Congressman Frank
Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, the spokesman said.
The inspector is focusing on a federally financed $25 million
marketing campaign intended to draw visitors back to the Jersey
Shore as the area struggled to rebuild from the damage unleashed by
Sandy in late 2012. The campaign included a television commercial
featuring Christie and his family that cost $2 million more than a
competing bid that would not have featured them.
"It is inappropriate for taxpayer-funded dollars that are critical
to our state's recovery from this natural disaster to fund
commercials that could potentially benefit a political campaign,"
Pallone said in an August 8, 2013 letter requesting the
In a statement responding to the probe, Christie's office noted that
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan had lauded the ad campaign and suggested
that Pallone's request for an investigation was motivated by
"We're confident that any review will show that the ads were a key
part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck
by the worst storm in state history," said Christie spokesman Colin
Sandy devastated New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East
Coast on October 29, 2012. The storm killed at least 159 people and
damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes, many in Pallone's
district on the Jersey Shore, where the storm made landfall.
NEW STATE PROBE
The Democratic-controlled state Assembly on Monday said it had
formed a new special investigative committee with subpoena power to
probe the bridge incident, nicknamed "Bridgegate" by local
Emails released last week showed the massive September traffic jam
was orchestrated by Christie's staff, apparently as political
payback against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who did not
endorse Christie for re-election.
"The evidence that has come out in recent weeks makes clear that
this now goes above and beyond a transportation issue and goes into
the highest ranks of the executive branch," said Assemblyman John
Wisniewski. "A concerted and focused investigation with increased
resources is now needed."
Christie has adamantly denied any
knowledge of a scheme to snarl traffic and there is nothing in the
emails to suggest he had any direct knowledge of the scheme.
[to top of second column]
The scandal could dent Christie's carefully cultivated image as a
get-things-done leader who puts the people ahead of politics — an
image enhanced by his easy re-election last year in heavily
Democratic New Jersey.
Without proof that Christie lied or knew that an aide was behind the
lane-closure plan, Republicans said it is unlikely to be a factor by
the time voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina begin to
weigh in on the presidential race in early 2016.
Other Democratic mayors who declined to endorse Christie said they
believe they were punished too. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said
in a statement that Christie administration officials began to
cancel meetings with him abruptly after he said no.
Christie last week fired a top aide who appeared to have called for
the closure of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge. He has
denied knowledge of the his aide's role in triggering the four-day
incident, which paralyzed Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side of the
News of the Sandy funds audit arrives on the eve of Christie's
annual State of the State address in Trenton on Tuesday, which kicks
off a second term he won in a landslide.
U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held
before being elected governor, has opened an investigation of the
decision to close the lanes.
Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski said he had referred
contempt charges David Wildstein, a former Port Authority employee
at the center of the bridge scandal, to county prosecutors after
Wildstein declined to answer questions about the scandal during an
assembly hearing last week.
The governor also faces a class-action lawsuit filed in federal
court on Thursday by Rosemarie Arnold, a lawyer who charges Fort Lee
residents suffered financially from being trapped in traffic.
(Additional reporting by Edith Honan in New York and Susan Heavey in
Washington; editing by Dan Grebler)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.