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Chris Christie Defends Rutgers President; Barbara Buono Calls For Hearings

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The controversy at Rutgers University over how the New Jersey school handled accusations that the men's basketball coach abused players is quickly becoming a political hot potato, with Gov. Chris Christie (R) defending the university president while his Democratic opponent is calling for a legislative investigation.

In a press conference Monday, Christie said he is standing behind the Rutgers president and does not plan to launch his own investigation into the university's handling of the allegations, PolitickerNJ reported.

Barchi, who took office last September, said he did not watch the video showing former coach Mike Rice abusing players when he was alerted to allegations late last year. Barchi did, however, fire Rice and Athletic Director Tim Pernetti after the tape went public in recent days. Over 50 faculty members are demanding Barchi's resignation.

"Dr. Barchi made a mistake when he did not ask to see the videotape," Christie said Monday. "He admitted that mistake. That is not a fireable offense."

At the same time, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), the presumptive Democratic nominee in this year's gubernatorial race, is demanding that the state Legislature start investigating the situation. Buono told The Huffington Post that she also wants Christie to take an active role.

"Honestly to me, this situation has been mishandled from the beginning," she said.

Buono described the Rutgers situation as a "lack of leadership" after the university decided to suspend and fine Rice last year. Rice was fired last week after the video, which showed him shoving players and using anti-gay slurs, became public. Buono said Christie "should have dragged" Rutgers officials into his office and demanded an explanation.

Christie used Monday's press conference to say that he would have taken a more active role in the situation if he had been aware of the allegations and the videotape when it was given to Pernetti and Rice last year. Christie also noted that Rice is alleged to have been involved in the conduct for three years, and university officials had not acted on the issue.

"Fire him and let him sue you. Get him away from the student athletes," Christie said. "That would have been my call if I had viewed the tape in November."

Christie appoints the Rutgers board, but does not have day-to-day control of the university. He has taken an active role in Rutgers policy before, including orchestrating a makeover of the state's medical education system into Rutgers -- a process which Barchi is currently implementing. Previous New Jersey governors have also taken an active role in the university and its athletic department. Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) hand-picked Robert Mulcahy as athletic director in the 1990s.

Buono told HuffPost that she wants Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) to convene the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee to hold a hearing on the Rutgers situation. Buono is vice-chairwoman of the committee, which held a recent hearing into Christie's actions regarding Hurricane Sandy cleanup.

Buono said she has not heard back from Sweeney, who has been allied with Christie in the past, on her request. Sweeney released a statement Monday calling for "full and complete disclosure" around the situation. Any Rutgers board members who knew of the video should resign, Sweeney said, but he did not address Buono's call for a hearing.

A spokesman for Sweeney said Monday afternoon that Sweeney plans to follow the same plan as Christie will in terms of waiting until after the internal investigation from Rutgers in completed.

"The Senate president believes that the Rutgers Board of Governors must look into this incident and wants to allow them time to do so," Sweeney spokesman Christopher Donnelly told HuffPost in an email.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) has indicated that she is receptive to a hearing, but has not indicated which panel would hold one. The Sandy hearing was held jointly by Senate and Assembly oversight panels, and an Assembly Budget Committee meeting previously scheduled for Tuesday is not expected to feature Rutgers administrators or the state's higher education secretary.

Christie's Republican legislative allies criticized Buono during the Sandy hearing for using the forum to benefit her campaign. She told HuffPost that such comments are "insulting to the people of New Jersey."

"That's a typical Republican talking point when they don't want the light of public scrutiny," she told HuffPost.

Tyler Kingkade contributed to this report.
This story has been updated with comments from a Sweeney spokesman.

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