Beyond The Bridge, Christie Faces Questions About Sandy Funds
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Today brings a new wave of questions about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. It's no longer just about whether Christie knew members of his team had ordered a traffic jam on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. Today we learned the federal government is also investigating whether the Christie administration misused funds earmarked for recovery from Superstorm Sandy.
We're joined once again by reporter Matt Katz of member station WNYC. And, Matt, what more can you tell us about these new allegations?
MATT KATZ, BYLINE: The allegation is that the governor got federal money for Sandy recovery and used a company to produce tourism commercials to attract people back to the Sandy-ravaged Jersey shore. And that he used these federal tax dollars to create these ads, but shows a firm that cost $2.2 million more than a competing bidder. And he did this because this firm was going to put him and his family in these tourism ads.
This was controversial at the time actually last year, because he was running for reelection and his opponents accused him of putting up veiled campaign ads on the air, using federal tax dollars. So the new allegation is that may have happened and that's why the Inspector General's Office with the federal government is looking into it.
CORNISH: But, Matt, just to be clear, the governor did actually seek permission from the federal government to do this and got approval for that.
KATZ: That's right. And part of his response today was that the federal government approved all of this. And actually gave him a waiver to use the federal money to spend it on tourism commercials.
CORNISH: So what has been the response from Governor Christie's office?
KATZ: His office responded pretty quickly and forcefully. They said it's amazing that the inspector general's investigation leaks now when the governor is at his lowest points. They are making the accusation essentially that the Obama administration is going after him because he's weakened. Up until this point, the president and the governor have been on the same page when it comes to the Sandy stuff. And now all of a sudden, a few days after this scandal breaks - related to something totally different - he gets hit with this.
So he's fighting back and it's possible that he'll get some sympathy on the right for fighting Obama on this.
CORNISH: Matt Katz, Governor Christie had been riding high before all of this, right? I mean even reelected by a healthy margin, named to head the Republican Governors Association and, of course, considered a strong candidate for his party's nomination for president in 2016. Any sense yet, looking at the polls, how this scandal is playing in New Jersey?
KATZ: Yes, we have a brand-new poll out. It was taken over the weekend in New Jersey. The governor's approval rating has dropped from 65 percent to 59 percent. Fifty-nine percent is still an enviable approval rating. But it is the lowest his approval rating has been since Superstorm Sandy struck the state over 14 months ago.
There's good news and bad news in the poll. A third of New Jerseyans think that Christie himself was involved in the decision to close the toll lanes, which caused the traffic jam - it's only a third. But two-thirds do not accept the governor's timeline about when he found out about the political retribution involved in this traffic scandal. And so there's some mixed numbers here. It's a great for the governor but it certainly could be worse.
CORNISH: That's reporter Matt Katz of member station WNYC. Matt, thank you so much.
KATZ: Sure thing, Audie.
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