More trouble for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie amid bridge scandal

Another mayor punished for not supporting governor's re-election bid and probe called into use of Hurricane Sandy relief funds on tourism

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 11:05pm

A rumbling political scandal involving the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has expanded, ratcheting up the pressure on the eve of his annual address to state legislators.

New documents released by Jersey City officials suggest the Republican Christie administration punished its Democratic mayor last summer by cutting off his access to top state officials when he declined to back the governor's re-election bid.

And in Washington, auditors have begun looking into Christie's use of Hurricane Sandy recovery money to pay for an expensive tourism marketing campaign last year starring him and his family.

It was revealed last week that top aides to the governor deliberately caused major traffic jams in Fort Lee in an apparent plot against its Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich.

As Christie finalised his state- of-the-state speech, Democratic lawmakers announced the creation of a special investigative committee with subpoena power to further scrutinise the traffic-jam scheme.

The developments compound the political challenge Christie faces in trying to move past the controversy, which began as a local furore over blocked access lanes to the George Washington Bridge before exploding into a national story that threatens his future as a leading Republican presidential candidate.

"This started as an inquiry into the Port Authority and now the trail leads directly into the governor's office," said state assemblyman John Wisniewski, who will head the assembly's investigation of the bridge episode. "The scope of our investigation has gotten considerably larger, and it's clear there was an inappropriate use of power."

The governor was expected to address the bridge scandal in yesterday's speech, but he was unlikely to linger on it. Aides said Christie wanted to emphasise his administration's policy priorities.

But legislators from both parties said they expect the controversy to dominate Trenton politics for weeks, if not longer.

"I think Christie needs to address the bridge situation whether he wants to or not, given the circumstances," said assemblyman David Wolfe. "The story about why this all happened keeps changing and people are wondering about what really happened. Talking about it and taking it on isn't a bad idea."

Jersey City released e-mails and text messages on Monday in response to a public-records request.

The documents show that Christie's staff initially made friendly overtures to Mayor Steven Fulop when he was elected in May, arranging a day of meetings for him with top state officials. The meetings were then cancelled, around the time Christie aides apparently learned that Fulop was not going to endorse the governor for re-election.

Separately, US Democratic congressman Frank Pallone, a longtime Christie critic, said the Department of Housing and Urban Development was investigating his use of recovery money related to Hurricane Sandy.

Public ads featuring Christie first drew criticism last year because they brought taxpayer-funded attention to the governor during his re-election campaign.