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Politics & Government

Scandals Tarnish N.J. Gov. Chris Christie's Political Career

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Talk about a political rise and fall. Not long ago, Chris Christie was a rising star - popular Republican governor in New Jersey, took a shot at the White House, became an adviser to Donald Trump. Now though, a series of scandals has journalists writing his political obit. Matt Katz of member station WNYC joins us on the line to talk about Chris Christie and what all this means.

Good morning, Matt.

MATT KATZ, BYLINE: Hi there, David.

GREENE: So here's this Republican governor, one of these Republicans who becomes really popular in a pretty blue state. How'd he pull that off?

KATZ: Four years ago this week is a good place to start. This was when a natural disaster hit New Jersey - Superstorm Sandy. Christie at the time had been campaigning for Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Remember, it was right before the election...

GREENE: Yeah.

KATZ: ...A few days before the election. But Christie got off the campaign trail. He warmly welcomed President Obama to the Jersey Shore. He was out there hugging victims, insisting he didn't care about politics or the election. His people were out of power, out of their homes and they needed him. He was blunt and in charge. He really, like, personified leadership to so many Americans - approval - to so many New Jerseyans. Approval ratings in the state shot through the roof, more than 70 percent. He won re-election...

GREENE: Wow.

KATZ: ...The following year in a landslide and then Bridgegate broke.

GREENE: Bridgegate - we should remember that this is Christie being accused of closing lanes on that bridge into New York City to retaliate against a local mayor.

KATZ: That's exactly right. And there's now a trial playing out in federal court involving two of his former appointees that makes it appear Christie was involved at least in the cover up of the scandal, that's what both prosecutors and the defendants are alleging. So there's that. And plus, the long-term recovery from Superstorm Sandy hasn't gone as smoothly as he would have hoped. There are allegations that political allies got recovery dollars.

Plus, Democratic investigations from the legislature and journalistic investigations have uncovered other scandals. There is one involving his best friend, who is the chairman of the agency that was involved in Bridgegate. This - the guy bribed United Airlines. His friend wanted United to start a weekly flight to an airport near his vacation home in South Carolina. And in exchange, United got help from Christie officials. That friend - his name is David Samson - he pleaded guilty. He'll be sentenced in December.

GREENE: Man, it's just one scandal after another it sounds like?

KATZ: That's really what it seems like. And Christie, you know, he used to be seen as sort of a bull in a china shop. And New Jerseyans liked the toughness. He seemed to identify with the state's image that way. But he really turned into a bully in the public's mind.

GREENE: And yet, he ran for president anyway, I mean, eventually dropping out and becoming the - really the first major Republican to endorse Donald Trump. Is Christie still standing by Trump today?

KATZ: He is. Christie played Hillary Clinton in debate prep before the third debate. And he's spending a lot of time running his transition team, working on picking people for cabinet positions in a Trump administration. But in the meantime, some of Christie's closest allies were really bothered by this endorsement. He was once this big-tent Republican, popular with Hispanic and black leaders in the state of New Jersey.

Now those supporters really feel betrayed because of the Trump support. Even his own lieutenant governor - a two-time running mate, a Republican named Kim Guadagno - she is now feuding with Christie as she is not supporting Trump. And beyond that, the Trump endorsement really turned Christie into something of a laughingstock in the public's imagination for being, like, Trump's faithful servant. He has been mocked in memes online for silently standing behind Trump during speeches, for example. And his popularity in New Jersey is tanking. He's now in the low 20s for an approval rating.

GREENE: Yeah, raising a lot of questions about his political future. OK. That is WNYC reporter Matt Katz. Matt, thanks so much.

KATZ: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.