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The Super Bowl being played in New Jersey Sunday is not providing a respite from scandal for Gov. Chris Christie.
Some Republicans say allegations from a former loyalist that Christie knew about a politically motivated lane closure as it happened last year could end up damaging his 2016 presidential prospects. Meanwhile, Christie’s political team is going on the offensive against the accuser.
The governor’s political team sent an email Saturday to donors, along with columnists and pundits who might be in a position to defend Christie, bashing the man Christie put in a top post at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the accusations the man’s lawyer made in a letter Friday.
The email says the former Port Authority official, David Wildstein, “will do and say anything to save David Wildstein.”
Christie’s team denies that Christie knew about the traffic jam or its political motive until after it was over and bashes Wildstein, a former mayor who later became an anonymous political blogger.
Much of the letter quoted previous newspaper articles that took critical looks at Wildstein, who resigned in December from the $150,000-per-year job at the Port Authority that he got with Christie’s blessing. The Christie email notes that a 2012 article in The Record of Bergen County says Wildstein “was a very contentious person.”
But the email does not mention other comments about Wildstein in that same story, including from Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak: “He is there in that job because he is well suited to the task of playing a role in reforming the Port Authority in accordance with the governor’s goals,” Drewniak said. “If he’s not liked for that role, and if he’s accused of being zealous in that regard, then we plead guilty.”
The email, headlined “5 Things You Should Know about the Bombshell That’s Not a Bombshell,” was obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by Christie’s office. It was first reported by Politico.
Alan Zegas, a lawyer for Wildstein, did not respond to emails from The Associated Press on Saturday night. He could also not be reached on his cellphone.
Wildstein, who was the first of four people with Christie connections to lose a job because of the scandal, is among 20 people and organizations connected to Christie who must comply with a new round of subpoenas from a legislative investigative committee by Monday. Most of the recipients have asked for more time.
When Wildstein appeared before a panel of lawmakers in January, he asserted his right against self-incrimination and refused to answer any questions. Zegas said Wildstein would testify if granted immunity from prosecution.
Some Republicans say the accusations could derail hopes of Christie running for president if he can’t shake the scandal soon, while others express faith in the governor.
“It’s not good for him,” said Matt Beynon, a Republican operative who worked on former Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign and still has him as a client. “The longer the story goes on, the worse it gets for him. If this is still an issue a year from now, he’s going to have trouble pulling the trigger. … Gov. Christie will have to think long and hard about running.”
But Ken Langone, a co-founder of Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc. and a staunch Christie supporter, expressed no reservations. “I have complete faith and trust that the governor is telling the truth,” he said, “and I continue to believe that he would be a superb president if he were elected in the future.”
Elliott reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Washington, Karen Matthews in New York and Angela Delli Santi in Trenton, N.J., contributed.
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