Are Chris Christie's problems getting worse? (+video)
Chris Christie faces a widening probe involving more close aides, more questions, and more scandals. And it's not just the press and New Jersey lawmakers in the investigation, it's also the feds.
WASHINGTON — Chris Christie did a good job defending himself against Bridgegate last week, according to many Washington politicos. At his operatic press conference on Thursday, the GOP governor of New Jersey expressed shock and outrage that his aides would shut access lanes of the George Washington Bridge for political reasons. He said he’d just learned of the Bridgegate charges himself and summarily fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly.
But today’s a new dawn and for Governor Christie, the woods remain dark and deep, to mix a few metaphors. Bridgegate is not going away. Many questions remain, and top New Jersey Democrats have vowed to continue issuing subpoenas in an attempt to get answers. Christie’s troubles may be at their beginning, not their end.
More people. For one thing, the universe of Christie aides with some connection to the Fort Lee lane closures keeps expanding.
Ms. Kelly; former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien; and David Wildstein, a Christie associate and Port Authority official, remain at the core of the known Bridgegate problems. But what about David Samson? Documents made public last Friday showed that Mr. Samson, the Christie-appointed Port Authority chairman, accused the agency’s executive director of “stirring up trouble” by leaking information about the controversial lane closures, according to New Jersey newspaper The Star Ledger. They also suggest that Christie and Samson met before Kelly sent her now-infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” e-mail.
Then there’s Regina Egea. She’s been “added to the mix," in the words of MSNBC host Steve Kornacki. Ms. Egea, another senior Christie aide, oversaw Christie appointees at the Port Authority and other agencies. She’s also Christie’s pick to be his next chief of staff.
Newly released documents show she got a September e-mail from a Port Authority director charging that the lane closures may have violated federal and state law. “That raises a ton of questions,” claims Mr. Kornacki.
All these folks may now get subpoenaed to testify before the New Jersey Assembly committee that’s probing Bridgegate. It’ll be pretty interesting to hear what they have to say about who knew what, when.
More questions. In his bravura performance before reporters last Thursday, Christie made many flat assertions that he wasn’t aware of the politics behind the Fort Lee mess. Of course, it’s quite possible, even likely, that he was telling the truth. But what if he isn’t? What if the situations he described in black-and-white begin to look a little gray? Christie’s political prospects could be in trouble.
And the press is already picking at key Christie statements. For instance, in his press conference, Christie denied that he and David Wildstein were close in high school. They were not friends, he said. He (Christie) was a jock and Wildstein was not. They ran with different crowds.
“We were not even acquaintances,” Christie said.
That’s news to Christie’s high school baseball coach Tony Hope, apparently. He told The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis that Christie was his catcher and Wildstein did all the team’s statistics.
So they were on the same team, in a way. Maybe the player overlooked the nonplayer who toted up batting averages.
“Nice knowing you kid. Or not knowing you,” jibes Mr. MacGillis.
More scandals. Nor is Bridgegate the only nascent scandal in the New Jersey gubernatorial in-box. On Monday, CNN reported that federal investigators are looking into whether Christie improperly used Sandy relief funds to pay for tourism ads that starred him and his family.
The ads per se aren’t the potential problem. It’s the fact that the winning bidder, the politically connected communications firm, got $4.7 million for the contract. That’s $2 million more than the next lowest bidder asked for. The loser did not envision personal use of Christie in the ads, however.
“This was money that could have directly been used for Sandy recovery,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D) of New Jersey told CNN.
Having the New Jersey Assembly on your case is one thing. The feds are another.
“If the Sandy inquiry finds any wrongdoing, it could prove even more damaging to Christie’s national ambitions,” writes CNN’s Chris Frates.