TRENTON, N.J. — A special legislative panel investigating an apparent political payback scheme involving Governor Chris Christie’s aides issued 20 new subpoenas Thursday, and he made his first trip since the scandal broke to pledge he will not be distracted from rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.
Christie also announced the hiring of a legal team to help his administration deal with inquiries into a scandal that will not be put to rest quickly.
The governor’s legal team, to be led by former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro, will ‘‘review best practices for office operations and information flow, and assist with document retention and production,’’ the administration said in a written statement. A spokeswoman would not say who is paying or how much the team cost.
Two New Jersey legislative committees, including one also using a former federal prosecutor; the US attorney’s office in New Jersey, which Christie headed before running for governor; and the chairman of a US Senate committee are conducting inquiries into what occurred in September when lanes to the George Washington Bridge from the town of Fort Lee were shut down for days, causing massive gridlock.
The plot apparently was hatched by Christie’s aides as a political vendetta, possibly because Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor would not endorse the GOP governor’s reelection.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who heads the primary legislative inquiry, said the new subpoenas seek documents from 17 people and three agencies. The recipients of the subpoenas will not be named until the documents are served, presumably by Friday.
The possible targets are people who worked for Christie or who are or were part of his inner circle, such as Bridget Anne Kelly, the fired aide who suggested in an e-mail to another Christie confidante ‘‘Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.’’ Another possible target is Bill Stepien, Christie’s campaign manager who appeared to gloat about the traffic chaos.
At a news conference last week, Christie said he would continue interviewing his senior staff to determine if there is any other information he needs to know and if he needs to take any further action, but he did not indicate his review would go further than that.
Christie did not address the scandal directly on Thursday when he made his first public appearance outside the State House in the eight days since the lane scandal emerged.
He went to friendly territory — heavily Republican Ocean County. The setting was the type of place that elevated Christie’s national profile in the weeks following Huricane Sandy in 2012 — a shore fire station much like the ones where he reassured fearful residents in the days after the storm.
The governor’s work leading New Jersey in the recovery from the storm, which damaged more than 360,000 homes and businesses, helped cement his national reputation as a no-nonsense, hard-driving governor willing to work closely with Democrats to get things done. It also raised his stock as a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS
Coburn to retire from Senate two years before end of term
OKLAHOMA CITY — Senator Tom Coburn will finish out the current congressional session and then resign from his seat nearly two years before his term is scheduled to end, he said in a statement released late Thursday.
The 65-year-old Republican said he would give up his seat at the end of the current session in January 2015. His term was scheduled to end after 2016, and Coburn already had vowed not to seek a third.
Chris Christie’s legal team will ‘review best practices for office operations,’ a statement said.
Coburn, a physician from Muskogee, recently was diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer, but said his decision was not about his health.
‘‘As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere,” Coburn said.
Known as a conservative maverick in his three terms in the House in the 1990s, Coburn continued that role after being elected to the Senate in 2004. He was a fierce critic of what he described as excessive government spending, and was most vocal about opposing the earmarking of special projects.
His resignation is certain to draw the interest of a deep bench of ambitious Republicans in Oklahoma. State law requires the governor to call a special election for a vacancy.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS