Chris Christie rocked by Superstorm Sandy relief scandal

New scandal hits New Jersey governor already fighting for his career after bridge lane closure debacle

(Image credit: 2011 Getty Images)

NEW JERSEY governor Chris Christie is being investigated over claims he used Superstorm Sandy relief funds to make tourism ads starring him and his family.

News of the investigation couldn't come at a worse time for the "scandal-plagued Republican", says CNN. Late last week he was forced to sack two aides who allegedly ordered the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge as part of a vendetta against a political opponent.

Christie's office has been "paralysed" by the bridge scandal which is about to trigger a "flurry of subpoenas", according to reports.

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CNN says the federal probe examining New Jersey's use of $25m in relief funds for a marketing campaign to boost tourism in the state, could be even more damaging to Christie's political ambitions than the bridge scandal. That's because the governor's performance during and after the storm has been "widely praised and is a fundamental part of his straight-shooting political brand".

The New York Post understands that Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, are likely to be issued with subpoenas as early as today in relation to the bridge scandal. Kelly allegedly orchestrated the lane closures in an effort to undermine a New Jersey mayor who refused to support Christie's re-election campaign; Stepien was "kept in the loop" about the plan.

The pair are among the targets of the state Assembly committee investigating the lane closures. Asked how many people would be ordered to appear before the committee, Assembly deputy speaker John Wisniewski said: "The list is fairly large".

Christie continues to insist he had no knowledge of the plan. But fallout from the scandal has caused a "ripple effect that's frozen several top moves and appointments," the Post says.

Sources told the paper that Democrats in the state senate have delayed the confirmation hearing for Kevin O'Dowd, Christie's nominee for attorney general. The senators "want time to gather more information so they can grill O'Dowd on what he knew about the closure of lanes on the country's busiest bridge as part of a political vendetta," the Post says.

The scandal has also stopped O'Dowd's "named replacement", Regina Egea, moving into his old job overseeing state agencies.

Fox News's Howard Kurtz says the US press has increasingly painted Christie as a "bully" and even if he can't be linked to the bridge scandal, serious damage has been done to his reputation.

"The sheer callousness of Christie's top aides in celebrating the traffic chaos they unleashed upon the town of Fort Lee and its Democratic mayor has the media saying, 'even if he didn't know about it, is this the tone he set for the office'?" writes Kurtz.

He adds: "The bridge scandal could quickly fade and become a mere footnote by the time 2016 [the year of the presidential election] rolls around. But in this new environment, any Christie outburst or act of retaliation could reignite the damaging debate."

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