— -- The New Jersey Democrat who spearheaded the George Washington bridge lane closing scandal is considering also investigating Gov. Chris Christie’s gift-taking from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Democratic New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chairman of the state joint legislative committee that investigated the scandal known as Bridgegate, said on the ABC/ESPN podcast “Capital Games with Andy Katz and Rick Klein” today he is beginning the “discussion of whether that is something that the committee should undertake or another legislative committee ought to undertake that inquiry.”
“We have to make sure this kind of behavior does not happen again,” Wisniewski said. “We need to make sure there is one standard. I don’t know why the executive branch would not comply chapter and verse with every single restriction that applies to the legislative branch.”
You can listen to the full episode of “Capital Games” HERE.
Wisniewski said he has already begun those discussions with his co-chairwoman, Democratic state Sen. Loretta Weinberg. Under New Jersey state ethics codes the governor is allowed to receive gifts from “relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds,” but state legislators cannot receive gifts above $250.
The governor’s office says they tried to make state lawmakers subject to the same disclosures as the executive branch, but state lawmakers never took up the legislation. In a statement Christie’s spokesperson Kevin Roberts said in response to Wisniewski, “Is anyone really surprised pro-Hillary PACs like American Bridge or the former chair of the NJ Democratic Party are using Governor Christie's love of a football team to score national media attention? Welcome to the silly season.”
Christie’s embrace of Jones Sunday evening after the Cowboy's playoff victory set off a barrage of online mocking, but scrutiny quickly turned to whether there were any ethical questions with Christie’s acceptance of the gift.
Christie appears to be unconcerned about the criticism. He told WFAN CBS sports radio Monday that he would like to attend the Cowboys playoff game in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Sunday.
Wisniewski said he’s “sure they are friendly,” referring to Christie and Jones, but “they are friends because he happens to be the governor and therein lies the problem.”
“The governor of the state of New Jersey should be above being influenced by that type of gratuity: air fare for his entire family and self and tickets to a game,” he said. “It certainly looks really bad…. I’m not going to argue the fact that the rules he is obliged to follow may in fact create a personal exception, but what I will argue is he should not have availed himself of that because it looks bad. It set a bad precedent.”
A Christie spokesman confirmed to ABC News today that Jones and Christie have been friends since the “summer of 2013” and Wisniewski said he doesn’t want to “investigate his friendships,” but he is concerned about the possible conflict of interest revealed on Tuesday, which showed a business relationship between Jones and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Cowboys, as well as the New York Yankees and Checketts Partners Investment Fund, own Legends Hospitality, which is the operator of the observatory of One World Trade Center. One Word Trade Center is operated by the Port Authority and Christie jointly controls the Port Authority with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Wisniewski said what he “need(s) to understand (are) the details of how the Port Authority saw fit to give this company a contract they could have given to anybody else.”
“We ought to know exactly how that contract was awarded, what were the considerations, what were the other contracts like, why weren’t they chosen?” Wisniewski explained.
While politicians are routinely given tickets to sporting events, Wisniewski said the charter flight “certainly elevates” the scrutiny and said the possible 2016 presidential contender should have paid his own way.
“Chris Christie could afford to pay for his own airfare. He should have. This whole controversy could have been avoided,” he said.
As for 2016, Wisniewski doesn’t think this will have an impact on a possible presidential campaign -- nor, he said, will Christie's rooting for an out-of-state team -— but Wisniewski said other “controversies” will affect a bid, including financial problems in the state, like property taxes and the pension system.
“I think that the games he went to will fall very far down a list of issues he will address and I’m not sure it’s going to be number one on the list of discussion because there are so many other weighty issues this governor has to answer for in a national campaign,” he said.
Listen to “Capital Games” HERE.
Capital Games” is part of the ESPN Perspectives audio series, focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. It is co-hosted by ESPN’s Andy Katz and ABC News’ Rick Klein, and it can be downloaded via iTunes or at espn.com/podcenter.