New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's re-election campaign and the state Republican Party have less than two weeks to comply with subpoenas from federal prosecutors investigating allegations of political payback.
Subpoenas to the Christie for Governor organization and the Republican State Committee were disclosed Thursday, the same day the Republican governor's campaign announced it had hired a Washington, D.C., law firm in the case.
The subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney's office are evidence of an escalating criminal investigation into allegations that Christie's aides created traffic jams in the town of a Democratic adversary. Earlier in the month, Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said his office was reviewing the matter “to determine whether a federal law was implicated.”
The federal subpoenas are due Feb. 5. A state legislative committee also is investigating. Its subpoenas for correspondence from 20 Christie associates and organizations are due Feb. 3.
Christie, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, was New Jersey's U.S. attorney before stepping down in late 2008 to run for governor.
Federal prosecutors refused to comment Thursday. Christie, in Camden to talk about a school dinner program, left without taking questions. The governor's office and re-election staff did not return messages for comment.
The governor's top political adviser, Bill Palatucci, said it's “wildly premature” to speculate on how the scandal will impact Christie's political future.
“Lots of folks in different states have seen similar situations, and their favorite politician gets through it,” Palatucci said Thursday at a gathering of the Republican National Committee in Washington. “They all expect (Christie) to do well also.”
The Republican Governors Association announced Thursday that Christie, who chairs the group this year, would be fund-raising in Massachusetts, Texas, Utah and elsewhere in coming months. The release of a vague travel schedule followed a call from recent Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli that Christie resign from the post.
Traffic lanes approaching the George Washington Bridge were closed without prior notice in September, creating traffic gridlock in Fort Lee, a town at the base of the bridge. Some of Christie's aides initially said the closures were part of a traffic study, but emails and text messages turned over to legislators suggest it may have been payback to the mayor.
Four people close to Christie have been fired or resigned as the scandal has unfolded, including Christie's two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly.
Kelly sent an email – “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” -- that seemed to give the plan the go-ahead.
Stepien appeared gleeful over the traffic chaos that ensued, according to emails, sent mostly from private accounts that were subpoenaed and have since been made public.
Legal experts have told The Associated Press that charges could range from conspiracy and official misconduct to perjury or obstruction.
They said the easiest charge to bring might be conspiracy, given that documents have shown several people working together to shut down a road for apparently illegal purposes.
If the purported traffic study was produced in an attempt to conceal political retribution, the experts said, obstruction charges could be brought.
Associated Press reporters Steve Peoples in Washington and David Porter in Newark contributed to this story.