TOPICS > Politics

Christie faces more questions in bridge scandal

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  January 13, 2014 at 9:15 AM EST

The New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, N.J., and New York City. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie weathered the initial storm over the bridge scandal with his performance during a nearly two-hour news conference last Thursday, the release of new documents on Friday and continuing intrigue mean the Republican is a long way from getting beyond the episode.

The Morning LineChristie has maintained that he had no knowledge of the decision to shut down two access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September. The documents made public Friday by a New Jersey State Assembly committee did not contradict that claim, but the materials revealed that Christie appointees at the Port Authority and top aides to the governor sought to squash media inquiries into the incident.

There are likely to be additional questions Christie will have to answer as more information about the lane closures comes to light. Politico’s Maggie Haberman notes that could spell trouble for the governor:

For Christie, the open-ended nature of the situation is dangerous. He can’t calibrate a strategy because it’s not clear when it will be over. And he acknowledged he’s uncertain about what more might come out.

The old saying about ripping the band-aid off fast has applied at no point during the scandal. The documents released last week showed that Port Authority officials and Christie’s own staff blew off media inquiries asking what was going on at the time of the closures, and for weeks afterward.

Adding to Christie’s difficulties is a growing rift with his political mentor, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean. The New York Times’ Kate Zernike explains that the discord is the result of Christie’s push to oust Kean’s son, Tom Kean Jr., from his role as Republican leader in the New Jersey State Senate.

The split with Kean also highlights the fact that Republican officials have been slow to come to Christie’s defense in the aftermath of the scandal.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who like Christie is a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender, said Sunday that people should “reserve judgment” because “this is a story that’s still developing.”

Arizona Sen. John McCain told CNN on Sunday that he thought Christie did an “excellent job” at his Thursday news conference and said he was a “great admirer” of the governor. But he also said the episode’s effect on Christie’s political future was still up in the air. “Now we’ll have to wait and see whether there’s any more to the story,” McCain said.

The scrutiny surrounding Christie is only going to increase following the bridge saga, a point made clear by Monday’s report from CNN’s Chris Frates that the governor is facing questions over his use of relief funds from Superstorm Sandy:

CNN has learned that federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used those relief funds to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family.

The news couldn’t come at a worse time for the scandal-plagued Republican, who is facing two probes into whether his staff tied up traffic near the country’s busiest bridge to punish a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his successful re-election bid.

If the Sandy inquiry finds any wrongdoing, it could prove even more damaging to Christie’s national ambitions. His performance during and after the superstorm has been widely praised and is a fundamental part of his straight-shooting political brand.

In the new probe, federal auditors will examine New Jersey’s use of $25 million in Sandy relief funds for a marketing campaign to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore after Sandy decimated the state’s coastline in late 2012, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone told CNN.

For more on the bridge scandal, be sure to check out N.R. Kleinfield’s detailed tick-tock in the New York Times.

And finally, to highlight what’s become a pivotal national moment for a governor, both the New Yorker and The Onion used satire to reflect on the deeper meanings of the scandal: that voters’ perception of Christie matters more than the reality, and that the governor’s persona tiptoes dangerously close to what his staff had done on the George Washington Bridge.

LINE ITEMS

  • The Supreme Court returns from its winter recess to hear arguments Monday morning in a case that tests the president’s power to appoint federal officials when the Senate isn’t in session. The case looks at three appointments to the highly political National Labor Relations Board President Barack Obama made when the Senate was technically in session but not in town.
  • Another Monday, another deep dive into Hillary Clinton-land. [Politico again
    and The Hill preview Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen's new book about the former secretary of state in this excerpt. Among the highlights: Clinton keeps a spreadsheet of friends and foes, and her State Department successor John Kerry didn't rank highly; and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill had an icy relationship with both Clinton and her husband before announcing she would support Clinton's possible 2016 presidential run.
  • Vice President Joe Biden spends the day in Israel attending the funeral services for former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. While there, Biden will meet with Israel's President Shimon Peres and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Mr. Obama will give a speech Jan. 17 outlining his plans to reform the National Security Agency, the data surveillance arm made controversial by leaker Edward Snowden.
  • Larry Speakes, who served six years as press secretary for President Ronald Reagan, died Friday at his home in Mississippi. He was 74 years old.
  • Democrat Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as Virginia's 72nd governor Saturday.
  • The federal government will recognize same-sex marriages that took place in Utah before the U.S. Supreme Court allowed them to stop temporarily. The state has declared it won't recognize the marriages until the issue has a more definitive legal ruling.
  • Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan for the Washington Post write that Congress' major legislative load is front-loaded this year. "Once the appropriations and farm bills pass, the era of big legislation -- at least for 2014 -- will be over."
  • And David Rogers of Politico outlines the details on the $1.1 trillion government spending bill.
  • Ross Ramsey at The Texas Tribune rounds up who will be on ballots in the Lone Star State this year, and what races, including the gubernatorial contest between Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis, might signify.
  • Republicans in Kentucky want a U.S. attorney to investigate the campaign practices of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks tackled the Christie scandal and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' book in their weekly analysis.

  • Mayor Danny Jones of Charleston, W.V., told Hari Sreenivasan on the NewsHour Friday he tasted the water made unsafe by a chemical spill at a coal processing plant, and that he wants the water company to fix the issue as soon as it can. It's still unclear when the people of Charleston, W.V., and surrounding counties, will have usable running water.

  • NewsHour Weekend continues its coverage of the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty with this story about a family in Suffolk County, New York.

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