Politics

06.25.14

Who Isn’t Investigating Chris Christie?

From sleazy Sandy spending to Bridgegate to strange, strange self-probes, this is your guide to all the state, city, federal, and internal investigations of New Jersey’s gov.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie once treated controversy like a gnat who made the unfortunate mistake of flying past the wrong head. Nothing could touch himthat is, until the scandal involving lane closures on the George Washington Bridge turned him into a laughingstock and threatened to swat his political future away from his grasp forever.

But as Bridgegate has faded from the view of network comedian monologues and 24-hour MSNBC coverage, Christie has slowly emerged again as the political force he once was--traveling across the country making speeches to conservative groups, stumping for fellow Republicans who so need his star power, dancing on late-night TV and playing softball in short shorts. But Christie is not home free yet. He is still mired in scandal—well, scandals. At least seven of which are the subject of investigations.

1.

TUNNEL OF CASH

Who: Manhattan District Attorney and the Securities and Exchange Commission 

What: The Port Authority gave New Jersey $1.8 billion for the construction of a tunnel known as the Access to Region’s Core (ARC). But when the tunnel project was canceled, what happened to the funds?

It turns out they may have been illegally used to pay for other projects. In particular, for the renovation of the Pulaski Skyway, an elevated roadway about seven miles from the Lincoln Tunnel, which connects Newark and Jersey City.

Christie dismissed the Port Authority when they said they couldn’t go forward with the project because it was “out of their purview.” Officials were forced to misrepresent the Skyway as an access road to the Port Authority’s Lincoln Tunnel (even though the roadway and the tunnel are not connected) in order to justify it. And it is that misrepresentation that is now reportedly a focus for investigators, as it may mean that New York state law was broken.

As the Times reported Tuesday:

Under New York State law known as the Martin Act, prosecutors can bring felony charges for intentionally deceiving bond holders, without having to prove any intent to defraud or even establish that any fraud occurred.

In addition to criminal charges under the Martin Act, the investigations could result in civil action under the Martin Act or by the S.E.C., under federal securities law.

Oops. And Christie, it should be noted, is himself a securities and appellate lawyer.

Investigators have subpoenaed Jeffrey Chiesa, a confidant and former counsel to the gov, who Christie appointed to serve as interim U.S. Senator after the death of Frank Lautenberg.

Status: Ongoing

Potential Political Damage: Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, got elected governor on his record as the guy who weeded out corrupt politicians who broke the law. And now here he is, accused of doing (or requesting others do) the same thing.

2.

A BRIDGE TOO FAR

Who: United States Attorney for the district of New Jersey, Paul Fishman 

What: For six months, Fishman has been investigating why lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed in Septembercausing traffic so bad that people called 911 and some emergency responders were forced to respond on foot—and if federal laws were broken.

The contents of documents obtained and released by the state transportation committee suggested that the lane closures were politically motivated—but it’s up to Fishman to determine whether or not that’s true, and if it’s illegal.

Fishman’s investigation into the matter has proceeded quietly, with only a few leaks.

In April, Scott Raab and Lisa Brennan at Esquire reported that Wildstein was cooperating with Fishman. Wildstein, through his attorney, has taunted Christie by insinuating that he has information that could be the final nail in his coffin.

And just last Thursday, Esquire reported two sources close to the investigation “say Fishman’s pace is quickening.

“Federal charges in the bridge closures potentially include both intentional interference in interstate commerce and—in the cover-up that ensued—obstruction of justice…One source expects Fishman to return some indictments as soon as next month.”

Status: Ongoing

Potential Political Damage: “Federal charges” don’t exactly look good on a presidential candidate’s resume. And even if Fishman’s investigation doesn’t lead him directly to the gov’s feet, indictments of his underlings will make Christie’s plea of innocence even harder to buy.

3.

STINGY RECOVERY

Who: United States Attorney for the district of New Jersey, Paul Fishman 

What: Your eyes do not deceive you: Fishman is looking into more than one thing.

Just a few days after the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge became its own term with a scandal-signifying suffix, Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken, alleged that two members of Christie’s Cabinet told her that she would not receive additional money to rebuild her town unless she decided to go ahead with a proposed real estate project.

Zimmer described being pulled aside by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno at an event and informed what the deal was: Do as the administration wants or watch your town struggle to bounce back. Guadagno, for her part, has categorically denied Zimmer's accusations. 

To make things even more confusing and incestuous: The law firm of David Samson, the chairman of the PA (and close adviser to Christie), was representing the Rockefeller group, who was developing the real estate project.

Nothing says “fit to lead” quite like “extortion” and “holding up Sandy recovery funds,” right?

Christopher Adams, who serves as vice president of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association of New Jersey, told NJ Spotlight, “Sandy is an issue of criminal bribery. There could be a number of potential crimes, not the least of which could be extortion. The idea that the state would hold up the administration of federal funds unless the governor’s office could exact some benefit for itself or for a client of Samson is very serious. There were countless criminal indictments made on a lot less than that during Christie’s years as a U.S. Attorney.”

Status: Ongoing

Potential Political Damage: Nothing says “fit to lead” quite like “extortion” and “holding up Sandy recovery funds,” right?

4.

‘PAY-TO-PLAY’ FOUL

Who: Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley

What: New Jersey's “pay to play” law states that government contracts can not be awarded to “business entities which are also contributors to candidates, political parties and the holders of public office.” And so, when the New Jersey Republican State Committee received a contribution from a company that the state then awarded a public pension contract, it raised some red flags.

Charles Baker, a Republican running for governor in Massachusetts, has an I-support-you, you-support-me relationship with Christie. Both men have campaigned or fundraised for one another. Baker even generously donated $10,000 to the NJ GOP committee in 2011—which wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact that Baker was, according to a report by David Sirota of PandoDaily, an executive and producer of a venture capital firm, General Catalyst Partners, which the Christie administration decided to start pouring pension funds into just a few months after his donation to the committee—in apparent violation of pay-to-play law.

Last month, Coakley (who, it should be noted, is a Democratic candidate for governor running against Baker) informally requested that the Securities and Exchange Commission review the $15 million deal between General Catalyst and New Jersey. Not long after, the New Jersey Treasury Department’s chief auditor began reviewing the matter.

Status: Ongoing

Potential Political Damage: Breaking your state’s law is a big deal, but the good news for Christie is that New Jersey pay-to-play laws are harder for people to understand than, say, traffic. Even if he was found in clear violation of the law, it seems unlikely a scandal would blow up.

5.

SHADY SANDY SPENDING

Who: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

What: After Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Jersey Shore, Christie’s approval rating skyrocketed, thanks to his star turn as Comforter-In-Chief—a calm, fleece-wearing, Obama-hugging leader who could help his constituents climb out of the mess surrounding them.

But then it came time to handle those Sandy recovery funds. Things didn’t exactly go well.

Christie hired Louisiana-based Hammerman & Gainer Inc., or HGI, for a cool $68 million, to help get victims of the storm back into their homes. (The hiring of HGI probably had nothing to do with the fact that the company’s NJ law firm, Capehart Scatchard, had recently made a $25,000 donation to the Republican Governor’s Association, of which Christie now serves as chair).

As Matt Katz at WNYC reported: After across-the-board criticism from homeowners and lawmakers, the Christie administration fired HGI two years before the scheduled completion of the project they were hired to work on—and didn’t tell anyone. When it finally became public, the administration said the company would be paid $10.5 million for their work-to-date.

Congressmen Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell called on HUD to investigate the matter, which the agency itself called "routine" (Pallone and Pascrell may have been blowing it out of proportion for political gain). 

And then there were the tourism ads.

As part of the Sandy recovery efforts, the Christie administration sought to drive tourism to the Jersey Shore. One way of doing this was to create tourism commercials, paid for with Sandy recovery funds--no big deal.

Except that the ads ultimately produced happened to include the governor and his family—during his reelection campaign (causing some to criticize them as being more about politics than tourism). Much worse, it turned out the ads cost $4.7 million—$2 million more than the next lowest bidder. Why was $2 million more spent than necessary? The next-lowest bidder wasn’t suggesting to include the First Family in the ads. Federal investigators are looking into the matter.

Status: Ongoing

Potential Political Damage: One of Christie’s biggest (remaining) accomplishments as gov is the way he responded in the wake of Sandy. An official finding that he has misused funds—while some of his constituents are still displaced from their homes—would be devastating to his political ambitions.

6.

THE TERRORS OF TRENTON

Who: Joint New Jersey State Senate and Assembly Committee

What: In the immediate aftermath of Bridgegate, the New Jersey State Assembly and the New Jersey State Senate formed separate investigation committees—and then they joined forces.

The joint committee is led by John Wisniewski, who had used his subpoena power as head of the Transportation Committee to break Bridgegate wide open. Loretta Weinberg, the Senate Majority Leader whose legislative district includes the town of Fort Lee, has made her part of the scandal from the very beginning.

But the committee failed to get David Wildstein to talk, and its subpoenas of key players Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien were thrown out by a judge who called them too broad.

Status: Ongoing

Potential Political Damage: It seems the committee has found all that it will find. The real power for damage to Christie lies in the hands of Fishman. 

7.

ME, ME, ME

Who: Christie’s attorney, Randy Mastro

What: It takes a brave man to hire an attorney to investigate himself, and charge taxpayers for it. Christie is a brave man.

In response to Bridgegate, Christie said that he would make sure the matter was investigated thoroughly, and in late March, his attorney, Randy Mastro, released a 360-page report after interviewing dozens of witnesses and reviewing thousands of documents. And shockingly, his lawyer said, Christie did nothing wrong.

Or, as The Daily Beast reported at the time, “Chris Christie’s investigation of Chris Christie has found that Chris Christie did nothing wrong, says Chris Christie’s attorney.”

In the report, Christie’s people went to great lengths to vilify his enemies, painting Bridget Kelly as an unstable slut who got dumped by her boyfriend, and David Wildstein as a crazy idea man known for being unpredictable.

Thankfully, the investigation and all of Christie’s other Bridgegate-related legal bills have only cost New Jersey taxpayers about $3 million.

Status: Completed

Political Damage: While the report found nothing damaging because of course it didn’t, it’s hard to think of something that looks worse than charging your constituents for an unnecessary investigation of yourself that does nothing but bad-mouth your detractors.