NJ Gov. Christie allegedly used more than $10M in taxes to pay for bridge closure scandal
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has allegedly used more than $10 million tax dollars to pay for legal services regarding the Fort Lee George Washington Bridge lane closure case, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Christie is an ex-officio member of the University Board of Trustees.
The 2013 case consisted of members of the Christie administration collaborating to create intentional traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Lanes were closed at the main toll plaza on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge from September 9-13.
The governor’s office paid approximately $2.3 million to the digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg in 2014 and 2015 in addition to paying $8 million to the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm during the same time period, according to invoices released by the state attorney general's office last Friday.
Spokesperson for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, Leland Moore, declined to comment.
Christie employed Stroz Friedberg to answer subpoenas sent from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, according to the Tribune. Particularly, Christie commissioned the firm to compile a report that absolves him of misconduct in the bridge closure case. Though the firm has already been paid more than $2 million, a recent campaign filing shows an additional debt of close to $362,000.
Representatives at Stroz Friedberg did not respond to requests for comment.
Dan Cassino, an associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said that the problem is that it is very difficult to separate out Christie’s role personally versus his role as governor.
“It’s certainly wrong for Christie to spend money on private matters, but Christie and any other politician would argue that any legal troubles that come up during their office are related to their role in government and should be covered by the taxpayers,” Cassino said.
Cassino added that it is unrealistic for constituents to expect that politicians wear three hats and not have any overlap between them. For instance, Christie also used state-funded security guards during his presidential campaigns.
Andrew Yarrow GS ’81, former adjunct professor of American History at American University, explained that government officials, including Governor Christie and other governors, have staff legal counsel to advise them on issues relating to state business that are legitimately taxpayer-funded positions.
“When public officials become embroiled in potential legal issues stemming from their own behavior, particularly when that behavior is politically motivated and reflects efforts to avoid personal violations of the law, this is not what taxpayers dollars are for,” Yarrow said.
Yarrow added that using public funds for his defense at the very least reflects poor judgment.
On Feb. 5, a federal judge gave defense attorneys permission to subpoena emails and other significant documents gathered and used by Gibson Dunn to investigate the Fort Lee bridge closure on behalf of Christie.
Attorney Randy Mastro of Gibson Dunn did respond to requests for comment. Mastro had previously represented Christie in the Fort Lee case.
The firm had previously been criticized by a federal judge for departing from standard procedure and failing to preserve interview notes used during their investigation. The judge claimed that the decision against keeping notes was intentional and likely due to an anticipation by the firm of high media scrutiny and an additional legal investigation.
Christie dropped out of the running to become the Republican presidential nominee on Wednesday, Feb. 10, after coming in sixth place in the New Hampshire primary.
According to Cassino, Christie’s approval rate in New Jersey has fallen to a “generic Republican rating.” As such, the incident will not largely change the level of support for Christie, Cassino said. However, the exposure will likely make the state legislature less willing to work with the governor on key issues.
“His national legacy will be the guy who killed Rubio during the presidential election, his Republican legacy will be the one who hugged Obama after Hurricane Sandy. He has a real opportunity to salvage his legacy here in New Jersey by restoring a functional government,” Cassino said.
Stanley Katz, professor of international law, said that since Christie has no realistic political future in New Jersey, he doesn't have to worry about what voters think anymore.
“He is an embarrassment to the state, but he seems not to have a sense of shame,” Katz said.