After canceling a meeting in the southern part of the state with victims of Hurricane Sandy due to the ongoing scandal surrounding closures of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie met with homeowners Thursday to discuss storm recovery.
As he traveled to Stafford Township, another scandal served as the backdrop to his visit: a federal audit on the use of federal funds meant to aid victims of the storm, funneled instead into a multi-million-dollar ad campaign prominently featuring the Christie family.
Christie initially canceled the event last Wednesday, when the Bergen Record published emails between his now former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and his former senior aide David Wildstein that showed Kelly requesting “traffic problems in Fort Lee” from Wildstein, who ordered the local lanes of the George Washington Bridge closed and caused four-hour traffic delays in the small northern town. Christie did not speak out last Wednesday, but followed up the cancellation with the now-famous two-hour press conference in which he apologized profusely and fired Kelly.
The event was rescheduled for Thursday in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township, an Ocean County town across from the popular Long Beach Island vacation desination and one of the towns most affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. At the event, Christie spoke to homeowners about their current needs, met with the Stafford Township Volunteer Fire Company, and “[made] an announcement marking a Sandy recovery milestone.”
As the Associated Press notes, any event Christie engages publicly in the near future will necessarily be linked to the George Washington Bridge scandal, especially as subpoenas are pending and both the prosecution and Christie’s office have lawyered up. When Christie first canceled the event, this was necessarily true. Now, however, he has to contend with a scandal directly related to what he is coming to Stafford to discuss: a federal investigation into how he used federal funds meant to help Hurricane Sandy victims.
Specifically, the investigation is looking into two different aspects of how the money was used, according to the Washington Post: whether Christie’s awarding of a $23 million contract to a marketing firm to produce tourism ads featuring himself and his family was an appropriate use of federal funding, and whether his appearance in those ads specifically during an election season constitutes inappropriate self-promotion with government funds.
Christie’s office responded to questions from CNN by describing the audits as “routine and standard operating procedure with all federally allocated resources to ensure that funds are distributed fairly.” The statement also expressed “confidence” that the audit would reveal nothing embarrassing about the use of federal funding in the “Stronger than the Storm” campaign.