New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s terrible week just got worse.
Federal law enforcement officials launched a criminal probe into whether the governor’s administration illegally quashed grand jury indictments against a Christie ally, NBC News confirmed on Thursday. And separately, the potential Republican presidential candidate’s trip to England this week, where he made controversial remarks about vaccinations, didn’t go over well with Garden State voters, according to a new poll, which also found Democrat Hillary Clinton easily beating Christie in a hypothetical race.
Bennett Barlyn, a former Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor, told NBC News that he met with two federal investigators on Wednesday and was questioned about his past allegations that he was fired because wouldn’t drop a case against Christie supporter, Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout. He had brought forth a whistle blower lawsuit in 2012, while the governor has insisted he had nothing to do with Barlyn losing his job.
Barlyn said he spent 65 minutes with investigators and said he turned over key pieces of evidence from his civil lawsuit; he said he wasn't given any direction from investigators about how serious their look into the case was.
Meanwhile, the Monmouth University survey found that two-thirds of Christie’s constituents, 66%, believe the governor is more concerned about his own political future than the future of the state, a 10-point jump since September. When asked if Christie’s trip across the pond was to build trade relations — which was how the visit was billed — or if it was simply to help the governor fun for president, 65% said the latter. Just 17% believed it was to build trade relations.
The shift is mainly due to increased skepticism toward Christie from his fellow Republicans, the poll indicated. In September, 54% of the state’s GOPers said Christie was more focused on the state while 33% said he was focused on his own political future. That ratio had flipped by Thursday, with 54% of New Jersey Republicans saying Christie’s future ambitions are his top concern with only 33% believing his state duties come first.
“Even New Jersey Republicans are starting to wonder whether Gov. Christie is treating his day job as an afterthought,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
The poll also showed that Clinton would handily beat Christie in the blue-leaning state by a margin of 58% to 32%. He fared better when up against establishment Republicans, however. Christie would beat former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — who also appears to also be inching toward a run — 40% to 36%, according to the poll. And against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Christie would win by a 38% to 26% margin.
It’s been a particularly tough week for the governor, who sought to raise his profile and beef up his foreign policy resume with his three-day trip to England. The trip was overshadowed, however, when he said on Monday that parents should have a matter of choice when it comes to getting their children vaccinated, even as public health officials work to contain an outbreak of measles across 14 states. The remarks led other potential Republican candidates to weigh in, with several saying parents should get their children vaccinated.
The governor ended up cancelling three scheduled press appearances in England following the remarks and his office issued a clarifying statement saying: "The governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated." The statement added "at the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate."
To top it off, a New York Times report this week detailed how Christie has taken several luxury trips paid for by others but still raised ethical questions.
Late last month, Christie launched a political action committee called “Leadership Matters for America,” which will provide a fundraising vehicle and all the governor to set up donor lists, hire staff, travel around the country and raise his profile.