Democrats mull ethics probe over Christie's Cowboys hug

Story highlights

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was spotted on national TV hugging Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who paid for Christie to attend a playoff game
  • Jones has business in New Jersey with the Port Authority

Washington (CNN)Chris Christie's decision to accept a plane ride and a box seat at Sunday's Dallas Cowboys game has Democrats considering an investigation and even some Republicans questioning the New Jersey governor's judgment.

On Wednesday, the co-chairman of the New Jersey legislative panel investigating the Bridgegate scandal told CNN that he is considering an inquiry into whether it was appropriate for the governor to accept free tickets from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after a company the team has a stake in was awarded a contract supported by Christie.
"It smacks of improper behavior. It smacks of hypocrisy," Assemblyman John Wisniewski said. "It smacks of inside deals that the average guy in Jersey can't ever dream of having the opportunity to do. It's wrong."
    Christie, a lifelong Cowboys fan, said through a spokesman that Jones paid for the ticket and transportation to the game. The spokesman said Monday that the governor's code of conduct allows Christie to accept gifts "from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds."
    But the revelation Tuesday that the Cowboys own part of a company that won a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey contract, which was endorsed by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, raised questions about a possible quid-pro-quo.
    Last March, Legends Hospitality, which is owned by the Cowboys, New York Yankees and the Checketts Partners Investment Fund, won the Port Authority contract to operate the observation deck of One World Trade Center.
    Why would a big state governor with White House ambitions accept lavish gifts from a wealthy patron? That's a question Virginia's former Gov. Bob McDonnell will probably be asking himself as he heads to prison Feb. 9 after being handed a two-year sentence for public corruption conviction on Tuesday. McDonnell accepted cash and gifts from a wealthy businessman with interests in his state.
    In the case of Christie and his Cowboys, there's no evidence of any wrongdoing. But Democrats like Brad Woodhouse of the progressive American Democracy Legal Fund are quick to draw the comparison.
    Woodhouse filed a complaint with the New Jersey State Ethics Commission and the governor's Advisory Ethics Panel this week, arguing that "Christie's acceptance of gifts from Mr. Jones ... appears to violate at least two separate provisions of New Jersey's Conflicts of Interest Law, the New Jersey Uniform Ethics Code, and the Governor's Code of Conduct."
    Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella said that it's not surprising that a partisan organization is "using the governor's support of a football team for a political hit."
    "The governor does not involve himself in Port Authority bidding processes," she said. "He's only there because he's a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. And Jerry Jones wants him there because he's good luck."
    Indeed, Jones told a Dallas radio station Tuesday that, "He's part of our mojo and I want him there all the way. I'll tell you, if he's got enough mojo to pull this thing out, he ought to be looked at as president of the United States."
    But even some Republicans are questioning Christie's decision to watch the game from the owner's box. Former Republican state Sen. Bill Schluter, who served on the State Ethics Commission, said Christie was offered the tickets because of his position as governor, which "just doesn't pass the smell test."
    "I just wonder if the governor hasn't given up his idea of being president. For him to do this, to go out to Dallas to see this game, doesn't show good judgment," he said.
    It's a point Woodhouse, a former spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, echoed.
    "It really defies the imagination that someone who sees himself as running for president would act this way," he said. "It doesn't look like someone who's on a national stage ready for primetime."