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Feds probe Christie's use of Sandy relief funds: reports

Feds probe Christie's use of Sandy relief funds: reports

Less than a week after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became embroiled in the George Washington Bridge scandal, the possible 2016 Republican presidential hopeful finds himself facing another political controversy.

CNN reports that federal officials are investigating whether Christie used Superstorm Sandy relief funds to produce "Stronger Than the Storm" tourism ads that starred the governor and his family.

According to the report, federal investigators are looking at the state's use of $25 million in relief funds to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore after the devastating storm.

The news of the probe follows on the heels of the bridge scandal, but the issue was first raised last summer, when New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. sent a letter asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to look into bidding process used by Christie for the marketing campaign — specifically the governor's decision to award the contract to a proposal that was $2.2 million more expensive than one from a competing firm.

"These taxpayer-funded television ads feature the governor and have been aired in New Jersey and surrounding states during his reelection cycle," Pallone wrote in the August 2013 letter addressed to David Montoya, the department's inspector general. "However, the proposal from the less expensive firm that was not chosen during the bidding process did not propose featuring the governor in the ads.

“The fact that this particular proposal was chosen despite an obvious conflict of interest, in addition to the higher costs, raises serious concerns with the entire process," Pallone continued. "I fought hard for passage of the Sandy aid package in Congress by assuring our colleagues that this funding was critical to our recovery and that it would be spent responsibly without waste, fraud and abuse."

On Sunday, Pallone told CNN he was notified last week that a preliminary review of his concerns had become "a full-blown investigation."

Representatives for Christie did not immediately respond to CNN's report of the probe. The governor is scheduled to give his State of the State address on Tuesday.

"There's reason to believe there's a problem here," Pallone told ABC News Monday.

On Sunday, prominent Republicans hit the talk show circuit to defend Christie's handling of the burgeoning bridge scandal, comparing it to President Barack Obama's response to the Benghazi attack and the IRS' targeting of conservative groups.

“Chris Christie has been totally open here,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. “He stood there for 111 minutes in an open dialogue with the press. Now, only if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would give us 111 seconds of that, would we find out some things we want to find out about Obamacare, Benghazi, the IRS.”

Priebus added: “I think what you saw the other day was leadership.”

Last week during a nearly two-hour press conference, Christie apologized for his staffers' involvement in creating a 2013 traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge — an apparent retaliation against Fort Lee, N.J., Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had refused to endorse Christie for governor. Christie also announced the firing of two of his top aides.

“I think he took the bull by the horns, held people accountable, fired people," Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger said on ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "And I think it is a very big difference than how this administration has handled things — IRS, Benghazi, you can keep your health insurance if you want it. Nobody’s been fired over that."

Christie has strongly denied his involvement in ordering the lane closures. State lawmakers have launched an investigation to determine if laws were broken.

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