Federal investigators have launched an inquiry into whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy relief funds to produce tourism ads that featured him and his family during his re-election campaign.
According to CNN, federal auditors will examine the use of $25 million in public funds for a marketing campaign aimed at reviving tourism on the Jersey Shore after major parts of the coastline had been decimated in the 2012 storm.
Also on Monday, Democrats in the New Jersey state Assembly revealed that they are launching a special investigative committee to question more members of the Christie administration about the bridge closures in Fort Lee, N.J., according to two Democratic aides, The Washington Post reported.
“It will look into a wide variety of issues related to the closures and Gov. Chris Christie’s staff,” an state legislative aide told the Post. “There is a need to focus on a broad array of issues and the Assembly is going to dedicate itself to finding the truth beyond the usual committee process.”
The committee will be chaired by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the transportation committee, the Post reported. He will make an announcement sometime later Monday on the full scope of his probe, but it was clear that he planned to renew and expand the state Legislature’s subpoena powers.
“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,” Wisniewski said in a statement. “A concerted and focused investigation with increased resources is now needed.”
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone prompted the Superstorm Sandy inquiry after asking the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in August to examine how Christie spent the marketing money approved by the department.
“This was money that could have directly been used for Sandy recovery. And, as you know, many of my constituents still haven’t gotten the money that is owed them to rebuild their homes or raise their homes or to help,” Pallone told CNN.
Pallone cited concerns about the bidding process for the firm that was awarded the marketing plan after it charged the state roughly $4.7 million, about $2 million more than the next lowest bidder, according to CNN. The winning bid featured Christie and his family in advertisements while the losing proposal did not.
Pallone told CNN that a preliminary review of the spending has already been concluded and that there was enough evidence to launch a full-scale investigation into the use of the funds. The probe will take several months to complete, with findings to be issued in an official report.
Any wrongdoing unearthed from the probe would likely further dim the presidential chances of Christie, who shot to national prominence on the basis of his performance during and after the superstorm.
News of the inquiry could also deepen the controversy surrounding the embattled governor who last week fired top aides and gave a lengthy public apology over revelations that they had ordered lanes to be closed to the George Washington Bridge in September as a possible act of political retribution.
Subpoenas could be issued as soon as Monday for Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager, The New York Post reported. And New Jersey state Senate Democrats also have delayed the confirmation hearing for Kevin O’Dowd, Christie’s nominee for attorney general, who is his current chief of staff.
Meanwhile, in a sign that Christie’s troubles are further deepening, his earliest political mentor, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, has also distanced himself from the governor, suggesting Christie’s aggressive character marks a sometimes “dangerous” approach to governing, and one that may be undesirable in a presidential candidate, The Washington Post reports.
“On the one hand, I think he’s got a lot to offer. I think he’s the most able politician since Bill Clinton,” Kean said. “On the other hand, you look at these other qualities and ask, do you really want that in your president?”
He also hinted at Christie’s hardball politics, citing tactics by Christie last year when he unsuccessfully tried to oust his son, Thomas Kean Jr., from his position as the state Senate Republican minority leader as part of a deal with South Jersey Democrats, who were helping the governor with bipartisan legislation.
“If you come at him, he’s going to come back at you harder,” Kean said.