For a guy who's taken a political beating all year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems to be in surprisingly good shape — at least compared to a few months ago, when allegations that his office abused its power rocked his administration and threatened to derail any possibility of a 2016 presidential run.
The Republican is coming off a pretty solid week. His poll numbers, which were in free fall, seemed to have stabilized – hovering around 50%. Christie has capitalized on an internal review he commissioned, which unsurprisingly cleared the governor of any wrongdoing last Thursday. The governor, who has largely avoided the media for months, held a presser heralding the internal report and has been making the television rounds with a clear message: I'm back.
And then there’s his fundraising prowess. The Republican Governor’s Association, which Christie chairs, announced Thursday it broke two fundraising records with Christie's help.
But the Garden State governor’s troubles aren't entirely over yet.
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, suggested the past week is an anomaly. Gov. Christie “has had 12 really bad weeks and then he had one good one,” said Dworkin.
“Stabilizing is not strengthening when it comes to his numbers,” added Monmouth University pollster and political analyst Patrick Murray. “And the ultimate impact of the [internal] report was there’s a lot more we don’t know so the investigation should continue.”
Here are five signs that Christie isn’t out of the woods just yet:
1. There are ongoing investigations. Christie’s administration is still under two major investigations over some of his staffers’ plan to close lanes and cause traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge – seemingly for political retribution. A state legislative panel is investigating just how high up the governor’s chain of command the order to cause traffic went and why. Federal authorities are probing the lane closings and allegations that two members of Christie’s staff threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy recovery aid to Hoboken, N.J. unless its mayor greenlit a redevelopment project. “While those investigations continue, there is still this cloud over the Christie administration and his second term agenda. And that makes it very hard for him to build public support for whatever it is he wants to do,” said Dworkin.
2. New Jersey voters remain very skeptical. Although a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll showed Christie’s poll numbers have stabilized, the survey indicates Garden State residents are still wary of the governor. Just 28% said the internal review was fair and unbiased, while 55% said it was done to improve Christie’s reputation. The majority, 62%, said Christie has not been “completely honest” about what he knew about the lane closures.
3. Key players may be forced to talk. Lawyers for central players in so-called Bridgegate – Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and the governor’s former two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien — have asserted their Fifth Amendment right against handing over subpoenaed documents related to the lane closures to the state investigatory committee. Lawmakers, however, have sued to force Kelly and Stepien to turn over documents. Both sides delivered arguments to Judge Mary Jacobson of the Mercer County State Superior Court last month, and Jacobson is expected to make a ruling soon.
4. Stepien and Kelly are gunning for immunity. Lawyers for the two ex-Christie advisers have argued the state investigatory panel has the power to grant them immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for their cooperation. After the internal review was released, Kelly’s lawyer said if she were “provided with the appropriate procedural safeguards, she will be fully cooperative and provide truthful and complete answers to any questions asked of her by the appropriate law enforcement authorities.” Murray said immunity could be a game changer. “As soon as one of these players gets immunity from the U.S. attorney, we’re going to find out pretty much everything that went on. The public is fully expecting the net will be wider.”
5. More details on Christie’s office allegedly withholding Sandy aid is likely on the way. The Hoboken City Council voted Wednesday to allow a city attorney to talk to investigators looking into claims that Christie’s staffers threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy funding. City Attorney Joseph Maraziti will now be able to give details on private conversations he had with Democratic Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who is making the accusations. Before, there were attorney-client privilege issues, but now Zimmer can grant a waiver immediately.