New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Thursday he hired a law firm to help his office as federal prosecutors investigate whether any law was broken when one of his aides ordered an apparent politically motivated traffic jam.
A star of the Republican Party, Christie has been grappling with a scandal for the past week, since the release of e-mails showing a top aide calling for "traffic problems" at the George Washington Bridge in apparent retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The governor's office said it had retained the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to help with an internal review and to cooperate with an investigation announced last week by U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman.
The outside attorneys will bring a "third-party perspective to the situation, and they will be a valuable asset as we move forward," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in the statement.
Randy Mastro will lead the outside legal team. During the 1990s, Mastro served as a deputy mayor to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, another moderate Republican with presidential aspirations.
Christie, widely considered to be weighing a bid for the White House in 2016, said last week he would cooperate with the federal probe into the abrupt four-day shutdown in September of two local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge linking New Jersey and New York City.
The move caused massive traffic jams in Fort Lee, angering commuters and delaying school buses and ambulances.
E-mails released last week appeared to link two of Christie's top aides to the decision to snarl traffic in Fort Lee in an effort to punish the town's Democratic mayor for not supporting the governor's re-election effort.
Christie has adamantly denied being part of the apparent scheme and fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and severed ties with former campaign manager Bill Stepien over their seeming orchestration of the lane closures.
New Jersey lawmakers are also expanding their probe of the scandal, which has become known as "Bridgegate." Both houses of the state legislature scheduled special sessions on Thursday to empanel committees with subpoena power to investigate the closures and any further links to Christie's office.
An investigative panel commissioned by the state assembly said on Thursday it would receive special legal assistance from former Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, who was lead investigator and prosecutor in both corruption trials of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who has been leading a special probe into the lane closures, said new subpoenas in the case could go out as soon as Thursday. He did not say who in the governor's office might be targeted.
Christie is also facing a review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over whether his administration may have misused about $2 million in Superstorm Sandy relief funds for an ad campaign that featured him and his family helping with cleanup.
Christie said at a news conference last week that he was "blindsided" by revelations that Kelly, one of his closest advisers, had sent an e-mail in August saying: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The recipient of that e-mail, David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees operations at the bridge, responded: "Got it."
Wildstein and his superior, Bill Baroni, also a Christie appointee at the Port Authority, both resigned late last year amid controversy over the closures.