New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie allegedly knew that the resources of a taxpayer-funded office were used to court endorsements for his 2013 election campaign, newly released emails show.
New Jersey's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) was headed by Christie-aide Bill Stepien, who later became the governor's re-election campaign manager, Politico reported.
It was Stepien who told Christie, via email, that the IGA "has already put the mayor of Belleville in the end zone," meaning the taxpayer-funded office had successfully courted a New Jersey mayor who would endorse the governor for re-election in return for state aid for projects in the township of about 35,000 people.
Christie met with Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble the day after Stepien sent Christie the email, Politico reported. He also met with two other mayors who eventually endorsed the incumbent governor during the 2013 special election.
A week after Christie met with Kimble, the Belleville mayor told New Jersey's Star-Ledger that he would support Christie.
“It’s certain that I’m going to endorse Gov. Christie,” Kimble said at the time. “I think the governor is going to help the town of Belleville with certain projects we need.”
In return for Kimble's endorsement, Belleville received millions of dollars in federal aid for rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Sandy, despite the fact that the town was left mostly unscathed by the hurricane compared to its harder-hit neighbors, the Star-Ledger reported.
As Politico notes, the IGA was disbanded after fallout from the so-called Bridgegate scandal made it clear the taxpayer-funded office was used to help the governor's re-election campaign. But Christie insisted he did not know aides were using the office for that purpose, a claim contradicted by the newly-released emails.
The allegations took the sheen off of the considerable goodwill Christie had earned after Hurricane Sandy, when voters credited him for solid leadership during recovery and rebuilding efforts. As Politico notes, the scandal damaged Christie's reputation ahead of a planned White House run, and Christie ultimately endorsed presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump after dropping out of the primary race.
Christie's political opponents jumped on the allegations immediately. Democratic state Rep. John Wisniewki said the emails confirm that Christie lied when he said he was in the dark regarding the IGA's political activities.
“The notion that the IGA put anybody in the end zone, unless IGA’s job was to get them Rutgers tickets, is just outrageous,” Wisniewski said, according to Politico. “It shows what we all suspected, and what we’ve ready implied, that the governor’s IGA office was really a very thin cover for the campaign.”
The IGA investigation is related to the Bridgegate scandal, where Christie similarly claimed ignorance about wrongdoing. For five days in September of 2013, aides from the governor's office closed a pair of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York City. The back-ups snarled traffic for miles, angered motorists, and led to several investigations. One local columnist wrote that it quadrupled commuting times for New Jerseyans who were driving to jobs in the city, Politico reported.
Despite accusations that Christie had the lanes shut down to punish a local mayor who did not endorse him for re-election, an investigation by federal prosecutors did not find enough evidence to charge Christie.