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Feds Step Up Probe Into Christie’s Aide in Bridge Scandal.


Two investigators have visited the home of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, as federal prosecutors appear to be actively investigating the role that the governor’s aides played in the bridge-gate scandal.

According to court documents, Stepien was not home at the time, and his lawyer Kevin Marino has declined a request by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to interview Stepien, according to NJ.com.

Marino admitted that Stepien is under federal investigation in the probe surrounding the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge as political payback for the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign.

The lawyer said Stepien was first contacted by an FBI agent in mid-January by phone seeking an interview. Stepien, who worked with Christie on both his campaigns for governor and had been his pick to lead the New Jersey Republican Party, turned down the request.

In mid-February, the court documents showed that the FBI agent and a criminal investigator from the U.S. Department of Justice visited Stepien’s home in Princeton.

The documents said, they “questioned his landlord about his conduct and his character —  was he was married, a rowdy tenant, did he pay his rent on time — and left behind their calling cards, which identified them as criminal investigators and left no doubt as to the nature of their investigation.”

The U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, confirmed last month that his office was looking into the lane closings, according to The New York Times.

Christie has cut ties with Stepien and fired his former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who sent an email calling for traffic problems on the bridge last year.

Stepien’s lawyer claimed in the court documents that because his client is being investigated by federal authorities, he should not have to comply with a subpoena demanding that Stepien hand over documents to a state legislative committee also probing the traffic jam.

Stepien has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in declining to cooperate with the panel, which asked him to turn over calendars and electronic devices that might show communications regarding the closings.

Kelly is also refusing to comply with a subpoena on Fifth Amendment grounds. Both their cases will be heard in a Trenton courtroom next week, the Times reported.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Drew MacKenzie

Christie Agenda Hampered as Former Democratic Allies Turn on Him.


To push his first-term agenda, Republican Governor Chris Christie had no greater booster than Senate President Stephen Sweeney, New Jersey’s top-ranking elected Democrat.

When Christie wanted to make state workers contribute more toward pensions and benefits, Sweeney, an ironworkers union organizer, stepped up with a bill. To drum up voter support for $750 million in borrowing for university construction, Sweeney, who never attended college, hit the campus tour circuit.

Now, as Christie seeks backing from the legislature’s majority Democrats to further cut pensions that constrain his record $34.4 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2015, Sweeney is casting himself more as foe than enabler.

“This has nothing to do with me getting along with him or not,” Sweeney, 54, said in a Feb. 25 interview. “It’s business.”

The chill comes amid state and federal investigations of the administration’s links to intentional traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. Christie, a potential presidential candidate, is seeking a policy victory to reverse sliding approval. He also is looking for bragging points as chairman and chief fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association in a year in which 36 states will elect chief executives.

More Cutbacks

Sweeney is the one New Jersey politician with the clout to make both the legislature and labor swallow a sequel to Christie’s first-term benefits cutbacks, which included a higher retirement age and bigger employee contributions to health insurance and the pension plan. Sweeney on Feb. 24 said another round isn’t negotiable.

“He’s saying, ’I don’t feel like giving anymore, especially to a weakened governor,’” said Matthew Hale, a political-science professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange.

Since Christie, 51, began his second term last month, Sweeney has soured:

The governor’s inaugural address, the burly lawmaker said, was “long on rhetoric and short on solutions.”

His handling of Hurricane Sandy aid: a “colossal failure.”

On another Christie proposal, a 10 percent income-tax cut, Sweeney told reporters Feb. 24: “You gotta be kidding me.”

Not Shy

Sweeney, like Christie, isn’t afraid to speak his mind. A resident of West Deptford, a Philadelphia suburb, Sweeney entered public service after his daughter was born with Down syndrome, because he wanted to improve laws and services for children with special needs. He served on his county’s governing board and was elected to the Senate in 2001. He has been re- elected three times, and has been president since 2010.

Since 2006, the lawmaker had been pushing pension changes over the objections of members of his party, who are typically backed in New Jersey elections by public unions.

Christie’s predecessor, Democrat Jon Corzine, wouldn’t hear of it, telling workers at a rally in front of the Statehouse that he would fight for them.

In the Feb. 25 budget speech, Christie said New Jersey’s pension system is underfunded by $52 billion after a decade of expanded benefits and missed payments. He signed a law in 2011 requiring the state to make one-seventh of its pension contribution in fiscal 2012, then raise the payment each year until it reaches the full annual amount, $5.5 billion, in 2018.

Creative Invective

Christie ousted Corzine in the 2009 election as voters rejected the one-term Democrat’s handling of the economy. The first Republican elected New Jersey governor since 1997, Christie and Sweeney made an agreement in June 2011 on a plan to curb pension costs. Unions picketed outside the Statehouse, while members hissed and booed inside as Sweeney testified on the measure before a legislative panel.

A month later, when Christie removed millions of dollars of Democratic add-ons to his second budget, Sweeney called him a bully, a punk and “a mean old bastard.” Christie told reporters two weeks later that he held no grudges because of the remarks, and he said together they had done “amazing things.”

“Senator Sweeney and I have a passionate relationship,” Christie said then. “When you have a passionate relationship like that, sometimes people get overemotional, and I think Senator Sweeney’s comments of two weeks ago are probably an example of that. We have a good relationship and we’re friends.”

The pension and benefits bill “never would have happened without Steve Sweeney’s vision and his leadership,” he said.

Taking Credit

Christie’s first-term successes were made possible because of alliances with prominent Democrats. Such ties stretch to Sweeney’s South Jersey base and its major political fundraiser, George Norcross. In the north, Christie is aligned with Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. The governor worked with DiVincenzo on the pension changes and with Norcross on reorganizing the state’s universities.

Sweeney, mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2017, made it clear this week that he wants credit for the 2011 retirement legislation.

“Let’s get it straight: It was my plan, not his,” Sweeney told reporters after Christie’s Feb. 25 budget address. “I was not his collaborator. He came along and worked on a plan that I believed in because I know pensions.”

2017 Race

Sweeney ceded a chance to challenge Christie last year to Barbara Buono, a Senate colleague from Metuchen who lost by 22 percentage points in November. In January, after e-mails showed a Christie aide suggested the bridge tie-ups in Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor didn’t endorse the governor, Sweeney formed an investigatory committee with power to subpoena members of the executive branch.

“He’s been such a close ally of Christie over the past four years that he has to prove himself anew to the Democratic Party,” said Peter Woolley, a politics professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison.

Christie, in his budget speech, said the pension changes haven’t gone far enough, because costs continue to rise. He gave no specifics on what else was needed. Sweeney said the governor should focus on improving the economy to boost revenue, not cutting obligations.

“Sweeney saw his political star rising because of the ascendancy of Chris Christie, and that allegiance could carry him into the governor’s mansion,” said Brigid Harrison, a political professor at Montclair State University. “Now he recognizes that his alliance with Christie is detrimental. Over the next several years he’s going to make every effort to distance himself.”

Sweeney in recent months has adapted some of Christie’s public-relations strategy. Christie has his town-hall meetings; Sweeney this month started touring towns to draw attention to Sandy victims’ troubles.

Once a month, the governor hears from voters during an hour-long radio call-in show. In December, Sweeney began weekly “Twitter Thursdays,” using his social-media account to answer questions. He has about 2,500 followers; Christie has 439,000.

In a Dec. 12 exchange, one user asked who would be the victor in a Sweeney-Christie arm-wresting match. Sweeney, with apologies to the governor, said, “It’s only a competition if the other guy has a chance.”

 

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

Reporting on Snowden NSA Leaks Wins Polk Award.


Four journalists who reported on the extent of the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden are among the winners of the 65th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism.

Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Laura Poitras of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post will receive the award for national security reporting for stories based on secret documents leaked by Snowden, a former intelligence analyst.

The awards were announced Sunday by Long Island University.

Journalists who wrote about massive traffic jams caused by bridge lane closures in New Jersey, a catastrophic garment factory collapse in Bangladesh and the struggles of a homeless family in Brooklyn also will be among those honored.

This year’s Polk Awards will be given out April 11.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Albert Hunt: Obama, Christie Need to Reset Their Narratives.


There were several reports this month about the Affordable Care Act, most of them positive: Participation is up; the so-called risk corridors, which critics call a giveaway to insurance companies, will make the government money; and the law will increase labor demand.

But more attention has been lavished on the negative: Over a decade, the equivalent of 2.5 million workers will drop out of the labor force because there are alternative health-insurance options, and the employment mandate was postponed again.

Separately, the drumbeat continued around Chris Christie. The Republican governor of New Jersey held a marathon news conference more than five weeks ago as he fired top aides whom he blamed for causing huge traffic disruptions on the George Washington Bridge last autumn. Christie insisted he knew nothing about the closures, which allegedly were political retaliation against Democrats.

Few new facts emerged about the initial controversy. But there has been a rash of other allegations, some stretching back to the 51-year-old governor’s high school days.

These two story lines — one involving Democrats, the other about Republicans — share common elements; they entail significant political fallout. Obamacare, even as the results get better, will hurt Democrats, perhaps seriously, in this year’s congressional elections. And a blow has been delivered to the presidential aspirations of Christie, who just three months ago was virtually coronated by Time magazine as the Republicans’ great hope for 2016.

Both demonstrate that once a narrative is established in U.S. politics, it’s very hard to shake.

The proliferation and growing influence of social media can accelerate a news narrative, like these two stories, says Teddy Goff, who directed President Barack Obama’s digital strategy in 2012. Over time, however, social media also may help a countertheme prevail, he says. This has little to do with overhyped chatter about media bias. There are effective offsets to media partisanship: the Internet versus talk radio; Fox News versus MSNBC. The mainstream media’s only discernibly consistent bias is on cultural issues — abortion, gay rights, guns, race – – while a smaller-movement conservative news media, oblivious to balanced or fair journalism, effectively pounds messages that often end up in the mainstream media.

That message pounding, coupled with the Obama administration’s miscues — the White House still resists tapping a chief executive officer to run the health-care initiative — has locked in, for now, a negative view of Obamacare. This despite some good news: More than 10 million Americans have new or better health-insurance coverage than before; health-care costs are moderating; and reforms such as prohibiting discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions are kicking in.

Optimists such as Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, think that once the kinks are worked out, Obamacare will become popular, much as Medicare and the prescription drug plan for seniors did. Still, as he acknowledges, “It’s taking a long time for people to understand” that the benefits outweigh the problems. Democrats running in November don’t have a long time.

Neither does Christie. Even if no new evidence emerges to contradict his proclamations of innocence, the damage may be irreversible. The governor’s appeal as a front-runner was that he could beat Hillary Clinton; his base is big-money Wall Street guys. As he gets hammered daily and now trails Clinton in presidential trial heats, the rationale and the base are eroding. He can’t shake the narrative.

It’s so embedded now that the best scenario for Christie is that he convinces voters that he had a bunch of second-rate top aides who engaged in political thuggery and that he had no clue what was going on. That’s not a compelling narrative for a would-be president.

 

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

Democrats Have 11 Videos Ready to Slam Christie on Bridge-gate.


Democratic Party strategists are focusing on a systematic strategy to undermine New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s national image by capitalizing on the backlash from the George Washington bridge scandal.

According to The New York Times, Democratic operatives reaching up to the highest levels of the party are using every opportunity to define Christie as a corrupt bully as they aim to sabotaging his chances of mounting a successful run for the White House.

Democrats have already created 11 different videos to capitalize on Christie’s links to the bridge-gate scandal. They are also organizing protests and news conferences in different parts of the country to dog Christie during his travels in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

“If Republican governors want to keep embracing him as their chair, as their model for the future, we’re happy to help them out,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told the Times.

Democrats have also resorted to attacking GOP candidates and lawmakers who have come to Christie’s defense, from a potential Senate candidate in New Hampshire to a New York congressman, according to The Times.

For example, when former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who is considering a run for Senate in New Hampshire, defended Christie on television, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee immediately ridiculed him as being “defender-in-chief of scandal-ridden Chris Christie,” according to The Times.

The Democratic National Committee has issued 58 emails to the media about the Christie administration’s alleged acts of political revenge, while American Bridge, a Democratic research group, has issued 169 requests for internal documents from the Christie Administration, the Times reports.

The escalating attacks have begun to limit Christie’s ability to work on behalf of GOP candidates, with aides being forced to conceal the details of fundraisers and events. But key donors have so far said they will not turn their backs on him.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Melanie Batley

GOP Eyes Scott Walker for 2016 as Christie’s Star Fades.


Image: GOP Eyes Scott Walker for 2016 as Christie's Star Fades

By Melanie Batley

Republican Party strategists say Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could be the new hope to lead the GOP presidential ticket in 2016 as the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal takes its toll on the presumed frontrunner, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Walker, according to pundits, carries the necessary appeal among conservatives to win a GOP primary, but his success in a blue state indicates he may be one of the few possible contenders capable of winning over independent voters in a general election, Politico reports.

Urgent: Do You Like Chris Christie? Vote Now 

“Chris Christie took a big fall after bridge-gate. It makes sense that Scott Walker’s stock would rise,” Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and Wisconsin native, told Politico. “I think he has as excellent a chance as anyone else in the GOP primary at this point.”

Walker was elected governor in 2010 and went on to survive a bruising recall fight in 2012 that was fueled by the unions who were irate over his proposed budget repair plan and changes to collective bargaining rights for state employees.

“Look at the guy — he got elected in Milwaukee County twice [as Milwaukee County Executive], then governor, then a recall election,” a former top Romney bundler told The Daily Beast. “He’s battle-tested.”

Walker currently faces a re-election battle against Democrat Mary Burke, the daughter of the founder of bicycle manufacturer Trek. He already has a significant financial advantage over Burke, having raised $4.6 million in the second half of 2013. Burke has just $1.3 million, $400,000 of which are her own funds.

“I’ve heard a lot of interest in Walker,” Charlie Black, veteran GOP strategist and adviser to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, told Politico. He added that if Walker wins re-election, he’ll “have a great record not only in Wisconsin but a great electoral record, having won three times in five years in a blue state.”

Commentators say Walker is also unique for his solidly middle class image and status as a Washington outsider. Nevertheless, they say, the GOP field for 2016 remains wide open, and Christie’s national political profile could still recover.

“There are no frontrunners. There are six to 10 really good candidates,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, according to Politico. “I think we’ll have a very broad campaign group.”

Gingrich added, “Assuming that he survives the bridge problem, and I think he will, Christie is going to end up a very formidable candidate.”

Urgent: Do You Like Chris Christie? Vote Now 

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Giuliani: Let Gov. Christie Do His Job.


Until there is concrete evidence to prove that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did something wrong, he should be left to do his job, his friend and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani says.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying the following, ‘Until and unless there’s evidence that proves he did something wrong, we’re going to take the governor at his word. We’re going to let him do his job,'” Giuliani told “Face the Nation” host Major Garrett Sunday. “I believe it’s going to come out all right. If it doesn’t, there’s always time to take action then.”

Story continues below.

Giuliani has been standing behind Christie throughout the growing George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. He reiterated that statements made by former Port Authority official David Wildstein’s attorney that Christie knew about the lane closures were no bombshell revelation.

“Here’s what it is,” Giuliani told Garrett. “It’s an offer from a guy who says he has evidence, hasn’t given the evidence yet. However, you have to take that into context. This is a lawyer who’s writing for a man who wants somebody else to pay his legal bills and he can’t get them paid unless the governor is responsible. And he’s a guy that’s seeking immunity.”

Giuliani said the recent disclosures and others that will likely come should be put into context.

“This is a long investigation,” said Giuliani. “It’s going to take a while. There’s going to be stuff like this that just jumps out and everybody’s going to exaggerate. They’re going to have to back off.”

If Christie is lying, Giuliani said, it’s a bad situation, but if the governor is telling the truth, “then something very unfair is being done to him. So let’s see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Giuliani said that he does not think Christie should step down from his leadership position at the Republican Governor’s Association.

Further, Giuliani agrees that the allegations that Christie was behind closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge in retribution for the Fort Lee mayor’s refusal to back his re-election campaign are “unfortunate and bad,” and the governor did apologize.

“But what I’m saying is, you take that real incident and now you’ve got pile on,” said Giuliani.

“You have a Democratic legislature with a guy who’d like to be governor, who very, very oddly announces at the beginning he doesn’t believe the governor. And no Democrat in the state sees that it’s odd that he should be running an investigation when he’s already announced that he knows the answer that none of us know the answer to.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Sandy Fitzgerald

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