Last week, the George Washington Bridge gave New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) a political headache. Now, a probe into the Superstorm Sandy recovery could turn it into a migraine.
The governor, and potential presidential candidate, is facing a federal investigation into whether he used millions in Sandy relief funds for improper political purposes, ABC News reports:
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said this morning he was notified "at the end of last week" that a preliminary review by the inspector general of the Housing and Urban Development Department has now become "a full-blown investigation."
"There's reason to believe there's a problem here," Pallone said.
At issue is $25 million used for the controversial "Stronger than the Storm" advertising campaign, which starred Christie and his family just as the governor was running for a second term. Christie was careening toward a landslide victory on his way to an expected run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Complaints over the ads are not new. GOP Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), one of Christie’s potential 2016 rivals, said it’s “just offensive” that the governor would appear in the ads in the midst of his reelection campaign. Democrats were also upset when the ads came out last year; Pallone requested the investigation in August.
Pallone raised concerns about the process in choosing the marketing firm to make the ads. Christie’s administration selected a firm whose plan cost $2.2 million more than the closest competing bid, CNN reported.
At the time, Christie’s office brushed off criticism of the ads. The $4.7 million bid planned to place Christie and his family in the ads. The less expensive proposal did not.
"We're confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history," Christie spokesman Colin Reed said in a statement on Monday.
The timing of the investigation could not be worse for Christie, given that he’s already under intense scrutiny over his office’s role in politically motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last September.
The investigation could take months and it’s unclear what it will find. But it could pose even greater political danger for Christie.
The recovery from Sandy was arguably Christie’s defining moment in politics. It raised his standing in New Jersey: one poll showed that his approval rating spiked in the wake of the storm to 77 percent, up from 56 percent. Christie’s broad appeal helped him cruise to reelection in the Garden State, which is traditionally blue.
And Christie’s warm welcome of President Obama following the storm angered conservatives (because it was so close to Election Day), but helped boost his bipartisan cred nationwide.
“I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics, and I could care less about any of that stuff,” he told Fox News last October. “I have a job to do. I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power. I’ve got devastation on the shore. I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”
Again, we don’t know what the investigation will bring. But it’s worth watching because it touches the heart of Christie’s political resume.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.