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'Bridgegate' investigation ramps up

The potential 2016 presidential candidate will fundraise in Florida over the weekend for Gov. Rick Scott. But can he shore up support amid 'Bridgegate'?
Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gives a news conference in Trenton January 9, 2014.

updated: 9:30 p.m.

The investigation into “Bridgegate” ramped up on Thursday with a New Jersey Assembly special investigative committee announcing that it has issued 20 subpoenas in the case that is threatening to derail Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s political career.

Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the chairman of the lower house’s Select Committee on Investigations, said the slew of subpoenas will be served to 17 individuals and 3 organizations.

NBC News’ Michael Isikoff reported that subpoenas will be issued to David Samson, the chairman of Port Authority, and Regina Egea, Christie’s incoming chief-of-staff. Bridget Kelly, Christie’s ousted deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, who served as Christie’s two-time campaign manager are also expected to be served.

Wisniewski said that there is currently “no intention” to subpoena the governor himself as no documents have demonstrated a “direct link” to Christie. But on All In with Chris Hayes Thursday evening, Wisniewski said he would not rule out subpoenaing Christie.

“This is about public trust. Public trust was destroyed here because of somebody in the governor’s administration,” Wisniewski said. “This started out as an innocuous investigation into the operations and the finances of the Port Authority, and while we were doing that, they closed lanes out of Fort Lee…we follow [the email chain] piece by piece, and when we look up, we’re in the governor’s office. We didn’t want to be there.”

Wisniewski said the committee would not rule out subpoenaing Christie, but said “it’s premature.”

“We’re not ruling anything out, and we’re not ruling anything in. We’re going to take it piece by piece, step by step.” 

While Christie has denied having any involvement in the plot to close lanes and cause monster traffic on the George Washington Bridge -- possibly for political retribution – and has fired one of his top aides, it looks like the potential 2016 presidential candidate’s troubles may just be beginning.

Christie is also being probed for the potential misuse of Hurricane Sandy relief money to produce tourism ads featuring his family during his bid for a second term in office.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who heads the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, released a 17-page letter from the Port Authority in response to his questions about the fiasco. The Port Authority said there is “zero evidence” that there was any legitimate traffic study being carried out, which was initially the argument for closing the lanes.

And New Jersey lawmakers who created a special committee investigating the scandal have hired Reid Schar, a former assistant U.S. attorney who helped prosecute former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for trying to sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat in 2011.

Meanwhile, Christie’s office announced that it made a high-profile hire of its own, retaining law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to assist with an internal review and to cooperate with the investigation by the Justice Department. The team will be led by Randy Mastro, a former federal prosecutor in New York who has focused on organized crime. Mastro served as an assistant attorney under former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and later became the city’s deputy mayor under him.

Christie is trying to go about business as usual. On Thursday he visited the Jersey Shore to tour the Superstorm Sandy relief efforts and to meet with impacted homeowners.

“Nothing will distract me from getting that job done. Nothing,” he said. Christie also insisted that he’ll serve his full term as governor, which would go well into 2016 and the presidential race.

“You asked me, and I accepted, the task of leading this state for eight years, not four years, and no one I can assure you ever told me or anybody on my team that it was going to be easy,” the governor said. “It hadn’t been up to this point, and there’s all kinds of challenges as you know that come every day out of nowhere to test you. But, I want to ensure the people of New Jersey of one thing: I was born here, I was raised here, I’m raising my family here, and this is where I intend to spend the rest of my life. And whatever test they put in front of me, I will meet those tests because I’m doing it on your behalf.”

And Bridgegate be damned, Christie  is set to fundraise in Florida over the weekend for Gov. Rick Scott. It will Christie’s first out-of-state political trip of the year and a big test to see if he can shore up support for Scott – even as his own administration is embroiled in the investigation.

Gov. Scott’s office would not comment on Christie’s visit to the Sunshine State, where Christie is expected to hold fundraisers in Naples, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. But Susan Hepworth, a spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida, brushed off suggestions that Christie could be a liability for Scott.

“We are grateful to have the [Republican Governors Association] chairman in town this weekend to do some events benefitting Rick Scott’s re-election campaign. Governor Christie has taken responsibility for the situation and we are looking forward to having him down in Florida,” said Hepworth.

Meanwhile, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz plans to trail Christie as he makes his way across Florida, holding pressers in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale on the same days as the New Jersey governor to discuss his recent troubles and Scott’s “failed record.”

The DNC noted in a statement that the fundraisers are not public events and that Christie and Scott are not expected to make a joint appearance.

It “means either Chris Christie doesn’t want to answer questions about his scandal or Rick Scott just doesn’t want to be seen in public with Christie. We don’t blame either of them,” said the DNC.

Less than two months ago, Christie was elected to the coveted position of chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association. The job allows him to travel the country to support and fundraise for GOP governors and candidates, especially for the 36 statewide races in 2014. Of course, the valuable perch also gives him big-time exposure should he decide to run for president in 2016.

Despite many on the far right using the governor’s troubles as a chance to beat up on Christie, who they’ve always seen as a “Republican In Name Only,” several other GOP governors who have elections on the horizon and undeniably want RGA support are coming out in support for Christie. That includes Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Terry Branstad of Iowa and John Kasich of Ohio.