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Christie scandals: What you need to know

Christie scandals: What you need to know
New Jersey Governor's Office/CNN
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Monday, January 13, 2014 - 8:09pm

(CNN) -- After trying to defuse the George Washington Bridge scandal with a leave-no-question-behind news conference last week in which he fired two top aides and apologized repeatedly for his being "blindsided" by what aides and appointees were doing, questions won't seem to go away for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

And the story took on new life on Monday with reports that the possible 2016 presidential candidate is being investigated on another front by a federal watchdog.

Questions persist and investigations continue into what Christie knew about the George Washington Bridge lane closings, a case that e-mails released last week suggest is politically motivated.

Here's what you need to know about the controversies swirling around Christie, who begins his second gubernatorial term this week.

Another scandal brewing

CNN broke the news Monday that the inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development is reviewing whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy relief funds to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family.

The audit will examine New Jersey's use of $25 million in storm 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.

Pallone wrote that he was concerned about the bidding process for the firm awarded the marketing plan; the winning firm is charging the state about $2 million more than the next lowest bidder. The winning $4.7 million bid featured Christie and his family in the advertisements while the losing $2.5 million proposal did not feature the Christies, he said.

The inspector general's office confirmed the review.

Pallone told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" the probe seeks to explain how the contract materialized.

"The daily in my district, down at the Jersey shore, basically did this investigation, and they compared the contracts between the two bids. They basically said the lower bid was not willing to put Christie in the ad. And that was the one that was $2.5 million. And then when the higher bid at ($4.7 million) said it would put him and his family in the ad, they were chosen. The question is how did that process come about," he said.

Christie's office responded to the report Monday, saying the ad was part of an "action plan" approved by the Obama administration and developed with the goal of "helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history."

Ongoing (and renewed) investigations

The bridge scandal has spawned two investigations in New Jersey.

State Democratic legislative leaders are forming a special new committee to investigate the matter.

New Jersey Assembly Speaker-elect Vincent Priet and Majority Leader Lou Greenwald announced Monday that the committee's sole mission will be to look into the lane closings in Fort Lee, and that the panel will have subpoena power and will "utilize a special counsel."

The committee will be led by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, whose Transportation Committee has led the investigation of the widening political controversy so far.

Wisniewski's Transportation Committee loses its subpoena power on Tuesday, when the current legislative session ends and a new one begins.

The move on Monday by New Jersey Democrats places subpoena power with the newly formed special investigatory committee.

Additionally, the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, is looking into the bridge matter.

Pallone also said in the interview with "The Situation Room" that the issue goes beyond whether the governor is being honest in his account of his knowledge of the bridge scandal.

"I don't think the issue is whether he told the truth or not. I think the issue is he created this atmosphere around him. It's a bullying atmosphere. An atmosphere take no prisoners," he said. "I think they went too far and it's deplorable."

The legal problems

Wisniewski says he believes laws were broken when -- as e-mails suggest -- the governor's aides ordered lane closures at the nation's busiest bridge.

"I do think laws have been broken," he said. "Public resources -- the bridge, police officers -- all were used for a political purpose, for some type of retribution, and that violates the law."

Legislators need to "make sure any violations of law are addressed," Wisniewski told CNN's Christi Paul and Victor Blackwell on Saturday.

On Friday, the New Jersey State Assembly committee investigating the scandal released more than 2,000 pages of documents suggesting politics was behind the lane closures and showing top Christie aides allegedly tried to stonewall media inquiries into the matter.

The state legislative committee has yet to find any documents indicating Christie was involved in the lane closures, Wisniewski said Saturday. Christie says he wasn't.

The political problems

While some Republicans are taking a wait-and-see approach on the question of whether Christie knew about the now-famous plot to close access lanes to the nation's busiest bridge, the chairman of the Republican National Committee said Sunday he doubts investigators will find any direct link between Christie and the politically motivated scheme.

"I don't think there will be one," Reince Priebus said. "Because I think we've got a really smart person in Chris Christie, who's a former U.S. attorney, who understands what's out there."

What they're saying

David Frum, former adviser to President George W. Bush, wrote that the bridge scandal's key lesson is one of character, not tactics.

Whether Christie knew about it or not, he's responsible for setting the tone of his staff. As Richard Nixon ultimately concluded, it's destructive to focus on revenge against your opponents.

Legal analyst and former prosecutor Paul Callan thinks that three prosecutors could take on the Christie case, but the odds of that are slim. The rule is: "If you are going to shoot at the King, you'd better be able to kill the King."
 

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