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US federal prosecutors subpoena Christie campaign in political payback investigation

As wife Mary Pat Christie holds the Bible, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is sworn in for his second term by New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, right, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Mired in a scandal, Christie sought to turn back the clock Tuesday and focus on the mandate he said he got in November to

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As wife Mary Pat Christie holds the Bible, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is sworn in for his second term by New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, right, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Mired in a scandal, Christie sought to turn back the clock Tuesday and focus on the mandate he said he got in November to "stay the course" and put aside differences, even as Democrats ramped up an investigation into whether his administration abused its power. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

TRENTON, N.J. - U.S. federal prosecutors have escalated their criminal investigation into allegations that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's aides created traffic jams as political payback, subpoenaing his re-election campaign and the state Republican leadership.

The subpoenas, disclosed Thursday, seek documents related to the closure of traffic lanes near the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and Manhattan, according to Mark Sheridan, a lawyer representing Christie for Governor and the Republican State Committee.

The traffic lanes were closed for four days in September, creating traffic gridlock in Fort Lee, the town at the base of the bridge, one of the world's busiest. Some of Christie's aides initially said the closures were part of a traffic study, but emails and text messages turned over to legislators suggest it may have been a message to the town's Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie.

The scandal has complicated Christie's prospects of a 2016 presidential run, tainting the image he has cultivated as a bipartisan political player with broad appeal.

The subpoenas were disclosed the same day the Republican governor's campaign announced it had hired the Washington, D.C., law firm Patton Boggs in the case. Sheridan works for the firm and is general counsel for the state Republican committee.

A state legislative committee investigating the traffic jams has also issued a subpoena to the Christie campaign.

"The campaign and the state party intend to co-operate with the U.S. attorney's office and the state legislative committee and will respond to the subpoenas accordingly," Sheridan told The Associated Press.

The federal subpoenas are due Feb. 5. The state committee subpoenas must be returned Feb. 3.

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said only that his office was reviewing the matter "to determine whether a federal law was implicated."

Christie was New Jersey's U.S. attorney before stepping down in late 2008 to run for governor.

Federal officials refused to comment. The governor's office did not return an email request for comment.

Four people close to Christie have been fired or resigned as the scandal has unfolded, including Christie's two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien.

Emails subpoenaed in the state investigation and released publicly this month showed Stepien appearing to gloat over the traffic chaos the lane closures caused. Emergency vehicles, school buses and commuters were delayed, some for hours.

After learning of the correspondence, Christie asked Stepien to withdraw a bid to become the next state Republican Party chairman, saying he was disturbed by Stepien's "callous indifference." Stepien has widely been seen as a potential campaign manager in a Christie presidential run.

The emails, mostly sent from private accounts, also showed the involvement of Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, whom he fired.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," she emailed to a Christie loyalist at the agency that runs the bridge, about three weeks before the lanes were abruptly blocked to local traffic.

"Got it," replied the recipient, David Wildstein, Christie's No. 2 man at the agency.

Wildstein and Christie's top deputy at the agency, Bill Baroni, have resigned.

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Associated Press reporter David Porter contributed from Newark.

Follow Angela Delli Santi at: www.twitter.com/AngeDelliSanti

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