A top political adviser and campaign strategist to Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been subpoenaed by the state legislative committee investigating the politically-motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, msnbc has confirmed.
Michael DuHaime is considered to be one of Christie’s closest advisers, especially when it comes to the national picture and the governor’s future plans. He served as a lead strategist for Christie’s gubernatorial elections in 2009 and 2013, but is not an employee for the governor’s office or the state.
Marc Mukasey, a lawyer for DuHaime, told msnbc that DuHaime will cooperate, but questioned the nature of the subpoena. “He was not involved in the decisions around the lane closures as has been well established at this point. That simple fact, plus the fact that Mike offered to cooperate without need of a subpoena, gives us great concern that this is really about politics and the chairman’s political future. That would be unfortunate, to say the least,” said Mukasey.
Christie’s office declined to comment.
The committee said the subpoena is for documents – and not testimony – related to the lane closures. “The subpoena is part of the committee’s continued, bipartisan investigation into the lane closings and apparent abuse of government power. The committee will follow the facts to get the truth so that the people of New Jersey get the answers they deserve,” said Democratic co-chairs of the panel Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
Five individuals have been subpoenaed by the committee to testify under oath about the scandal. Former official Christina Renna was the first to testify on Tuesday. Christie Administration chief spokesman Michael Drewniak is set to testify on May 16.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the Christie Administration’s separate, internal investigation into the lane closures, New Jersey taxpayers will be forced to fork over nearly $1.1 million for lawyers hired by the governors office. To make matters worse, the final number is anticipated to be much more, as the tab only covers work done by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher from Jan. 12 to Jan 31. The firm released its report, clearing the Republican governor of any wrongdoing, on March 27.
According to a billing letter obtained by The Bergen Record, the $1,077,785.20 in charges covers more than 3,000 hours worth of work done by nearly 40 employees. The entire cost went toward attorney fees except $1,693.20, which went toward photocopying.
A state legislative panel, that’s conducting its own review, has hired legal counsel and has has billed its firm approximately $500,000.
Christie has maintained he had no prior knowledge of the September lane closures ordered by some of his staffers and allies—seemingly for political retribution. He has since fired top aide Bridget Anne Kelly and cut ties with his former campaign manager Bill Stepien. In announcing the hiring of the law firm in January, the Christie administration said it was done with the goal of “ensuring that what happened here never happens again. That’s what the people of New Jersey deserve.”
But the internal report was immediately criticized by its opponents who argued it wasn’t independent, did not involve key people at the center of the scandal, and was being done by a law firm with known ties to the governor.
New Jersey voters are also skeptical of the report. According to a Quinnipiac survey from last month, the majority of Garden State voters – 56% – believe the Christie-commissioned investigation was a “whitewash,” compared to 36% who believe the report was legitimate.
Even a former member of Christie’s administration – who testified in front of a state legislative committee on Monday – said there were inaccuracies in the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher report. Christina Renna, who denied knowing of the bridge plot, said the report misstated how the governor’s intergovernmental affairs office treated mayors who did not support Christie.
The report had quoted Renna saying there were sometimes “mandatory directives” to not talk to authorities who were unfriendly. Renna told the panel that it was “not language I would use” and that while her team would not go out of its way to connect with such officials, if one contacted the office they would help. Renna’s lawyer jumped in saying she was not prepared to answer questions about the accuracy of the report. Later in the day, Renna said that while there had been some inaccuracies in the report she was “pleased with the portrayal” overall.
During her testimony, Renna insisted that political maneuvering did not play a role in the governor’s administration. But Renna also said she feared she’d be fired and that she’d been told by boss at the time, Kelly, to destroy evidence. Kelly is accused of sending the now-infamous email: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Renna said she had sent an email to Kelly about how Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was worried about the traffic jams. In recounting a phone conversation she later had with Kelly, Renna told the panel that Kelly “sounded very nervous and then she said ‘you know, just do me a favor and get rid of it’…I felt the request could have been inappropriate and candidly I wasn’t comfortable with it.” Renna said she deleted the email but kept a copy for herself.
Two major questions – who ordered the lane closures and why—remain unanswered.
Meanwhile, Christie is in Maine on Wednesday to help fundraise on behalf of the state’s Gov. Paul LePage, who’s up for reelection this fall. LePage is in a heated race. A Rasmussen Reports survey, released at the end of last month, showed LePage tied with Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud. Each garnered 40% of the vote among likely voters. Independent Eliot Cutler accrued 14% support while 5% said they were undecided.
A slight majority—52% – said they disapproved of LePage’s job performance compared to 47% who approve. LePage has come under fire for a slew of controversial remarks, including one at a fundraiser last year where he reportedly said President Obama “hates white people.” LePage once compared the Internal Revenue Service to Gestapo and said the “minute we start stifling our speech, we might as well go home, roll up our sleeves and get our guns out.”
Christie, who chairs the Republican Governor’s Association, has been stumping for a number of candidates up for reelection later this year. The RGA told msnbc that he’s also planning to make stops in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina to campaign on behalf of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.