Tag Archive: Chris Christie

More Christie Mythology From the Punditry

Last week we noted that Bob Ingle was inflating Chris Christie’s record in order to expand the impression that our US Attorney has never used his office for partisan gain.  Now we caught another columnist doing the same, and worse.

Chris Christie
This is Spiderman?

In today’s column The Trentonian’s Jeff Edelstein has nicknamed Chris Christie Spiderman.  Edelstein envisions Christie in blue and red tights swinging over the streets of the Garden State, because “Christie, much like Spider-Man, spins a web, any size, catches thieves, just like flies.”

Seriously.  Not kidding.

Of course to get to this disturbing image Edelstein decided to make up facts instead of researching them.  It seems to be an endemic problem with columnists in New Jersey, with Edelstein standing at or near the top of the heap.

Now, as you know, Christie is the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and under his watch, 105 politicians and political appointees have been charged and convicted.

And he’s never lost a case. He’s 105-0. And it doesn’t matter if it’s water board members or the biggest fish in the scummy New Jersey political pond, Christie goes after them and gets them.

Sorry, Jeff.  But Christie only claims 125 cases including investigations, indictments and convictions as of yesterday, and not the 105 convictions Edelstein claims.  If this weren’t a column in the Trentonian a retraction would be in order for such a wild exaggeration of fact.

A review of the NJ US Attorney’s Office press releases provides just 59 convictions, 21 of Republicans, 37 of Democrats and one we could not determine a party affiliation for.  That leaves another 46 for Edelstein to find.  Or retract.

But Edelstein’s number was about investigations, so let’s see if that proves the point.  A review of all available investigations – the US Attorney likes to quote numbers of cases but doesn’t return phone calls of people seeking to find out what they are – finds a much greater disparity between parties.  Of the 150 people we found who have been investigated, indicted or convicted only 33 are Republicans and 112 are Democrats. Five are unknown.

We’ll do a more in-depth analysis in a later post, but the preliminary review shows that Democrats are 300 percent more likely to be investigated than Republicans, a number far out of whack with the true ratio of party identification or elected officials.  Dems are only 175 percent as likely to be convicted.

Edelstein goes on to hero-worship Christie’s speeches, and use Christie’s own assertions as defense of Christie:

For instance, he twice highlighted the word “Republican” when discussing putting members of the GOP behind bars. He also recounted a conversation he had with then- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who told him to “check your politics at the door.”

And as far as I can see, Christie has done just that.

We’ve already demonstrated how far Edelstein can see, and how accurately.  But leave that aside and note that he is impressed that Christie said the word “Republican” twice while talking about ? Republicans.  Somebody out there has got to help me with this one, because I just don’t get it.

The Ashcroft thing is just as ridiculous.  Attorney John Ashcroft was a master at telling us he was non-partisan in his effort while engaging in partisan activities, and using him as a paragon of virtue that Christie follows is laughable at best.

Ashcroft changed hiring practices in the Department of Justice program that hired new law school graduates to remove it from the civil servants and put it under political appointees, with the result being far more members of the arch-conservative Federalist Society getting interviews and being hired. (Washington Post, 1/12/2003)

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette noted that Ashcroft turned his “front-line federal prosecutors into a politicized lobbying team” in support of the Patriot Act, using them for political support rather than catching criminals.

And then, of course, there were the politically convenient terror alerts that were always ready to distract from bad news for President Bush or to remind the voting public of the threat just before an election.  Terror alerts that shockingly stopped coming after the 2004 Presidential election.

No, if Christie is using Ashcroft as his measure of how to run a non-partisan prosecutor’s office then he is in deep trouble.

News Round-up and Open Thread for Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What’s on your minds today, Blue Jersey? Open Thread…

Tom Moran Digs Deeper, but Not Deep Enough

[Update: Apparently I am math-challenged.  Moran was right and I was wrong.  Christie has been in office five years.  Hat tip to — believe it or not — EnlightenNJ.]One of the reasons why I like Tom Moran as a columnist so much is that he seems genuinely interested in the things he writes about.  Moran writes his columns after researching his subjects, not before like some other columnists I can think of.

A couple weeks ago Moran wrote a column on the US Attorney scandal and its relation to NJ’s federal prosecutor, Chris Christie.  I criticized it here at Blue Jersey heavily for being long on “common knowledge” but short on research and understanding of the underlying issues.

To Moran’s credit, he went back to the subject and asked some of the questions we brought up, and published a second, much more in-depth column that came to the same conclusions as the first, though not as conclusively.  Unfortunately, it still fell short of a complete review and leaves open new questions.

It starts with the very first line:

For more than five years, U.S. Attorney Chris Christie has tried to ignore the critics who see political motives in every step he takes.

This opening sentence contains both a misstatement of fact and a hyperbolic over-judgment of Christie’s critics, including this web site.  The hyperbole is in the slighting of Christie’s critics: we simply don’t see political motives in every step he takes.  He nailed the CEO of Cendant, drug dealers, etc.  He also nailed many public officials who deserved it. 

But by exaggerating the concerns of Christie’s critics, Moran is dismissing them before they are even examined.  No US Attorney could be political in everything they did and keep their job, and it would be ludicrous on its face to suggest it.  Any smart US Attorney who did want to influence elections wouldn’t be blatant about it, but would use select opportunities to insert themselves in the process – like Christie is accused of doing with the NHCAC subpoena in the Menendez investigation. 

The factual error is the assertion that Christie has been under attack for “more than five years.”  Assuming Moran spiked this column on Wednesday for publication Friday, Christie had been in office exactly four years and two months that day.

Assuming that Christie was political before his appointment is not debatable since he was George Bush’s lead NJ attorney in the 2000 election, raised more than $100K for Bush’s campaign, and between the election and his appointment the Christie family (including $10K from Chris) contributed $74,000 to the NJ State Republican Committee.  Before Christie was up for an appointment the entire family had contributed just $800 – ever.

There is little doubt that Christie and his family were extremely political leading up to his swearing in as US Attorney on January 21, 2002.  Assuming that he stopped being a partisan as soon as he was sworn in is stretching credulity, even if you believe he didn’t use his office’s powers for partisan purposes.

Moran did talk to Christie this time, and asked if he had received political pressure to insert himself into campaigns. 

For starters, he said no one in the White House or the Department of Justice has ever pressed him to pursue a corruption case, or to drop one.

“Never once,” he said. “I’ve never heard from the White House that way ever. And I’ve never been called by the Justice Department to try to move me one way or the other on a political corruption case. It’s just never happened. They don’t even know what we’re up to in that area most of the time.”

This is what we like to call a non-denial denial, and it goes to the fundamental misunderstanding Moran had of the US Attorney scandal in his previous column: the issue is not pressure from the Bush administration, but from state parties and elected officials.

  • Carol Lam, fired US Attorney from California who prosecuted Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA), was pressured to change course and focus on other issues by Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA), not the DoJ or White House.
  • David Iglesias, fired US Attorney from New Mexico, was pressured to speed up the indictment of a Democrat by US Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), not the DoJ or White House.
  • John McCay, fired US Attorney from Washington, was pressured by Republican State Chair Chris Vance to bring changes of voter fraud against Democrats, not the DoJ or White House.

This scandal is not about Washington DC pressuring US Attorneys to do X or Y, but about the White House firing US Attorneys for not kowtowing to local Republican leaders.  The White House didn’t demand action, but does demand fealty.

Christie noticeably doesn’t say that State Republican Executive Director Tom Wilson didn’t call him, or that no members of NJ’s Republican delegation to Congress called him.  [In fact, three members of that delegation – Lobiondo, Smith and Garrett — have not answered calls to see if they had called to pressure Christie.] He specifically mentions the White House and DoJ, and we are left to guess for ourselves about anything else.

Christie’s effort to deny that the subpoena issued to the North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC) in September leads to more questions that it answers, but – in the column at least – Moran doesn’t follow up:

With control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, the subpoena seeking information about one of Menendez’s business relationships breathed life into Republican Tom Kean’s campaign.

So why didn’t prosecutors wait until after the election?

Christie can’t confirm that the subpoena even exists. But he said his office has an informal rule that restricts subpoenas within 60 days of an election. The Menendez subpoena, it turns out, was a few days outside that deadline.

So essentially, with a wink wink, Christie is saying that they dropped the subpoena at the last second they could and still influence the election.  That makes the subpoena all the more suspicious given that the investigation started back in the summer at the earliest.

Dannielle Leigh, who left Menendez’s Senate campaign in March, was served with the subpoena in late November, said her attorney, Remi Spencer. Leigh was also interviewed by FBI agents twice during the summer ?

From what we’ve been able to determine, NHCAC had not received any official or unofficial requests from the US Attorney’s office for any documents or information prior to the September subpoena.  That means the US Attorney’s office dropped the subpoena without ever testing to see if they could get what they wanted through cooperation.  Instead, they just dropped the subpoena “outside the deadline.”

This can be seen without suspicion, but it is certainly not exculpatory.  This is a repeated situation as people who support Christie attempt to defend him against accusations of partisanship – the evidence appears on the face to help Christie but on examination it usually means nothing for either side of the argument.

One of our main criticisms of the initial column was that Moran suggested that Christie was in the clear because his number 2 in the office, Ralph Marra, is a Democrat and hadn’t spoken up.  We suggested that Moran should have called to find out rather than assuming.  To Moran’s credit he did so.

That brings us to what is perhaps Christie’s best defense. He doesn’t act alone. He works these cases with career prosecutors who would object if he tried to turn them into partisan hacks.

Marra has been in charge of political corruption cases since Christie arrived, and he’s a lifelong Democrat who says he tells his children to vote a straight Democratic ticket while “skipping the ones who are crooks.”

“I’ve never seen anything even remotely what you might call political in how we make decisions on public corruption cases,” Marra said. “People who think that’s going on are completely wrong and don’t understand how the office works.”

That’s good that a Democrat in the office doesn’t see partisanship, and I think is the best evidence for the argument that Christie is not using his office for partisan gain.  Again, however, it doesn’t go far enough in that we are not accusing Christie of running a partisan office, but of occasionally doing things that benefit Republicans in the state and harm Democrats. 

I would have also asked him if he voted for Bob Menendez last year, which would show a bias for or against the Senator.  If Marra had pre-judged Menendez and determined that he was a crook, then the (D) after the name would mean nothing to Marra and he wouldn’t have been worried that a subpoena dropped just outside the 60 day window hurt Menendez and helped Kean Jr. 

In the Us vs. Them prosecutorial world, Menendez was no longer in the same camp as Marra.  He wouldn’t see the subpoena as Christie using the office for politics, but using it to screw a public crook.  So, again, on the surface we have a nice story but it is not exculpatory. 

Finally, Christie’s comment on how he is viewed by the political world is just ridiculous, and again intended to promote the idea that he is equally tough on both parties.  But it just doesn’t pass the smell test:

“Democrats call me partisan, and Republicans call me an overly ambitious bum,” he said. “It goes with the territory.”

Christie is trying to play the if everyone is mad at me I must be doing something right tune.  The problem is, the people in his party aren’t the ones complaining.  Republicans call Christie the best chance to take back Drumthwacket, defeat Lautenberg, etc.  As noted above, he and his family gave the state Republicans $75,000 in 2001 alone, and are well over $144,000 in the past four years. 

In short – or really, really long – the latest Moran piece is an improvement over the first, but it just doesn’t clear Christie of anything.  Instead, it’s just another piece that tells his side of the story without any others.

How Chris Christie Got His Reputation

One of the main themes of our recent coverage of Chris Christie is his largely undeserved reputation for bipartisan investigations.  For one, his biggest Republican cases — Treffinger and Monmouth County — both predate his taking office.  For another, he conveniently does things in September of big election years like drop subpoenas on Bob Menendez’s tenants, or say things like this while Jim McGreevey was leaving office:

As recently as July [2004], it appeared that the governor himself was in danger of being indicted. …

Mr. Christie stoked the speculation during a speech in September by declaring that corruption in the state was pervasive, “from the governor’s office to the local school board, and every level in between.” Mr. Christie said that he was not accusing Mr. McGreevey specifically of corruption.

Why is this bad?  Because the US Attorney accused the Democratic Governor’s office of widespread corruption just before an election though he had not indicted or convicted anyone in that office.  And still hasn’t.  US Attorneys shouldn’t be implicating people or specific groups unless it’s in court, yet Christie felt free to use the papers to smear the whole Governor’s office.

Christie has been able to get away with this kind of thing with little impact on his “reputation” because he gets a lot of cover from a media that is sometimes willing to accept his surface image without digging.  Sort of like the beltway media did for Bush from 2001 until recently.

Some in the media are even willing to stretch the truth and make up facts to give Christie his image as a bipartisan crusader.  Some of them like Bob Ingle of Gannett.

Back in March 14, 2005 Ingle counted three arrests among Christie’s count of public officials nailed:

Three more busts in Monmouth County brought the score this week to U.S. Attorney Chris Christie 79, Harvey 4.

A year later — today — Ingle is now changing the way he describes Christie’s record, including all arrests, indictments and convictions under the same category:

Christie has more than 100 convictions and guilty pleas.

Suddenly arrests and indictments have become convictions and guilty pleas.  In one of the most widely read columns in the state.  Out of some weird kind of hero worship, normally reserved for inflating a batting average or ERA of your favorite ballplayer.

When the media starts just accepting “common knowledge” as the truth, and then starts exaggerating to the point of fibbing, then the powerful can get away with using their offices in ways they weren’t meant to be used. 

Were a US Attorney looking to use his office for partisan gain — subtly — this cover would be of immense help. 

Again, the evidence is not there that the office has been used improperly, though the more we look the more smoke gathers.  The more smoke gathers the more likely there actually is a fire.

Tom Moran Missed The Point

Tom Moran today published a column pooh-poohing any connection between the rapidly escalating US Attorney scandal and our own federal prosecutor, Chris Christie.  In the column, Moran – an excellent columnist of whom I am a fan – commits the common error of accepting “common wisdom” as truth without asking questions.

Now, Blue Jersey is flattered to have been mentioned of course, but while we like being mentioned in concert with Paul Krugman we don’t really want to be called conspiracy theorists.  Especially when we are not espousing any theories or conspiracies, just asking questions.  Here’s what Moran wrote about us:

Here’s the problem in this for New Jersey: It is bound to give undeserved credence to conspiracy theorists who consider U.S. Attorney Chris Christie a partisan hack.

That view is gaining some ground. The lefty blog BlueJersey.com suggested Christie has kept his job because he is doing the White House’s bidding by going after Democrats on corruption charges. And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that the firings make the bias charges against Christie “quite plausible.”

First step in the debunking of this is to note that Blue Jersey was very careful not to convict Christie when we first posted on this, going so far as to say that there was no fire and the smoke was pretty whispy.  What we are doing is asking the questions, and getting our readers to ask the questions, that are needed to either find out guilt or exculpate Christie of any wrongdoing.  It’s what news gatherers do, only on blogs we do it a little more out in the open.

But it appears that Moran didn’t really ask the question of whether there was a problem at the NJ US Attorney’s office.  Instead, he just make guesses and suggestions of his own:

We’ll never know Christie’s motives with full certainty. We can’t peer into his soul. Maybe he is an evil genius, and has thrown Republicans in jail only for cover.

But in that case, we would surely have heard from one or two of the career prosecutors in his office by now, at least anonymously. Why would a guy like Ralph Marra, Christie’s first assistant and a Democrat, go along with a partisan scam?

Why haven’t we heard from Marra?  It might be that he wants to keep his job, or that he hasn’t been let in on it by Christie, or that he thinks this is business as usual and doesn’t want to rock the boat.  Heck, it might be that he has been replaced by a doppelganger and is being kept hostage in the White House.

But we don’t know because Moran didn’t ask.  He has a platform with his column that he could use to ask, access that we Blue Jerseyans would love to have, but instead of asking the question he made up his mind ahead of time.  That’s not good journalism, something at which Moran usually excels.

NYC TV Picks Up Christie Story

Brian Thompson from NBC-4 earlier today asked Governor Corzine about questions being raised about US Attorney Chris Christie. Presumably this may run on tonight’s news.

    Brian Thompson: “Governor, on this U.S. attorney situation going on right now, there have been some intimations, including by a columnist for the New York Times, wondering if what Chris Christie did right before this past election – subpoenaing certain records having to deal with Senator Menendez may have been the manifestation of the politicization that is being seen elsewhere in the government. How much of a concern do you have that indeed your choice for U.S. Senate may have been caught in the greater web of White House politics?”

    Gov. Corzine: “First, I think I’ve said – almost as often as I have on other subjects that I think what the U.S. attorney is doing with regard to official corruption in the State of New Jersey is an important contribution to making sure that people serve the public’s interest, not their own. I think that he has been a very positive element of that. As I said at the time, I didn’t think the timing was…it was awkward timing. And I still think it was awkward timing. But I don’t think that is indicative of the politicization, but I thought it was awkward. You have your choice of whether you wanted to wait 60 days or not, and that’s, that’s a choice he made. But my own view is that he has been a very positive contributor to how we have stemmed…”

    Brian Thompson: “But you’re not ready to say though that the hand of the White House may have been involved?”

    Gov. Corzine: “I would have no reason to know. I don’t know whether the U.S. attorney has had conversations about that. You’ll have to ask him, not me. I don’t…I haven’t been invited into Karl Rove’s office or other people’s offices, so I don’t…I would have no reason to know.”

It’s good to see reporters are starting to ask questions, though I’m not sure what’s gained from asking Corzine. Hopefully they’re also asking similar questions of others.

It’s A New Week — Call Your Congressman

NJ2: Lobiondo No Answer
NJ3: Saxton No
NJ4: Smith No answer
NJ5: Garrett No Answer
NJ7: Ferguson No
NJ11: Frelinghuysen No

Over the past couple weeks we have been noting that there have been quite a few US Attorneys fired by the White House for not being political enough, and that our US Attorney is still employed after issuing subpoenas that have the appearance of partisan politics. [1, 2, and 3

The story has been gaining legs, and the questions about US Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie are being asked.  Paul Krugman of the NY Times wrote a piece about it last week, and today we have a letter to the editor in the Home News Tribune asking similar questions.

Part off the story is that certain Republican members of Congress in Washington and New Mexico called their US Attorneys to put pressure on their offices to speed partisan investigations.  Blue Jersey is working to get our Republican delegation on the record by calling their offices and asking a direct question: “Did you call US Attorney Chris Christie or his office to inquire any investigation into Democratic politicians?”

We have Mike Ferguson (NJ7) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ11) on record as saying no, but two others haven’t answered and two others haven’t gotten a call from a constituent that we know of.

Today we’re going to suggest that you call your legislators and Executive Director Tom Wilson of the NJ Republican Party, as well, to get their answers.  Numbers are below.

This is how we can make change as Blue Jersey, folks!  Let’s get them all on the record.

Action Alert: Call Your Republican Congressman

Did You Call?
NJ2: Lobiondo  
NJ3: Saxton  
NJ4: Smith No answer
NJ5: Garrett No Answer
NJ7: Ferguson No
NJ11: Frelinghuysen No

Last week as the US Attorney scandal was bubbling up to the surface Blue Jersey noted [here and here] that the issue was not only with those who were fired for not bowing to political pressure, but to those who may have and thus kept their jobs.  An example to be explored was New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who issued and spoke publicly about a subpoena helpful to the Tom Kean Jr. campaign against Senator Bob Menendez last fall.

Looks like others are picking up the scent.  Paul Krugman in today’s NY Times:

Mr. Christie’s actions might have been all aboveboard. But given what we’ve learned about the pressure placed on federal prosecutors to pursue dubious investigations of Democrats, Mr. Menendez’s claims of persecution now seem quite plausible.

In fact, it’s becoming clear that the politicization of the Justice Department was a key component of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a permanent Republican lock on power. Bear in mind that if Mr. Menendez had lost, the G.O.P. would still control the Senate.

Then Krugman makes the point that generated today’s Action Alert:

refused to soft-pedal investigations of corrupt Republicans.

In the last few days we’ve also learned that Republican members of Congress called prosecutors to pressure them on politically charged cases, even though doing so seems unethical and possibly illegal.

We know from former conservative attack dog David Brock that there was a coordinated attack on Democrats and progressives in the 1990s that continues to this day.  We know from Matthew Continetti that Republican members of Congress participated, including the K Street campaign.  In other words, this is not an isolated incident.

There are six Republicans representing New Jersey in Congress, and they need to be on the record whether they called Chris Christie about the investigation and subpoena issued last fall to the non-profit group that rented a house from Bob Menendez.

Please call or write yours (numbers after the jump) and ask, “Did you or your office contact Chris Christie with regard to the subpoenas issued last September on the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, or any investigation related to Senator Bob Menendez?”

Put the answers you get — with the name of the person who gave you the answer — in the comments below.  If they all answer, “No” then we have them on the record.  If they refuse to answer, then there may be fire.

What Kind of Democrats Suck Up To Chris Christie?

During last year’s Senate race, New Jersey learned exactly what kind of partisan hack George W. Bush appointed to be our US Attorney. Just days ago, Huntsu gave us an outstanding bio of Christie and his partisan use of the US Attorney’s office during the race.

Chris Christie is a former Republican Freeholder from Morris County who had the honor to be a Bush “Pioneer” in the 2000 election.  Pioneers are people who raised $100,000 or more for Bush Cheney 2000.  After Bush took office in 2000, Christie was appointed US Attorney for New Jersey.  Christie was also widely rumored to be a leading Republican candidate for Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat, and is the leading Republican to take on Jon Corzine for Governor in 2009.  In short, he has been a powerful and long-time partisan Republican, and has aspirations to enter politics again as a Republican some day in the future.

Today, in a press release that attempts to draw Senator Loretta Weinberg into a “scandal” that the BCDO is trying to claim involves her, presumed BCDO-backed Assembly candidate Ken Zisa has nothing but kind words for proven Republican partisan Christie.

“Where there’s subpoenas, there’s fire,” Zisa said. “Mr. Christie is known for treading carefully and deliberately. After months of denials, Weinberg, Johnson and Huttle will now have to contend with a full throttle federal probe of their most full throated supporter.”

What is Ken Zisa, Hackensack’s Chief of Police, doing wiping his feet on the entire idea of presumption of guilt? “Where there’s subpoenas, there’s fire?” You mean, ‘guilty until proven innocent?’ I thought it was the other way around in America.

And since when has Christie been “known for treading carefully and deliberately?” Didn’t that myth get blown out of the water last fall when he abused his power to turn the US Attorney’s office into an arm of the Kean Jr campaign?  Again, back to Huntsu.

In September, Christie issued a subpoena on a non-profit regarding their rental of a building from Democratic Senator Bob Menendez as he was in a rough campaign with Tom Kean Jr.  The subpoena came in what appeared concert with the Kean Jr. campaign’s post-Labor Day putsch on corruption issues, and knocked Menendez off message for weeks.

The subpoena was not issued quietly, either.

“The big issue of the subpoena is that, while ordinarily they are kept confidential, it was quickly known by everybody that this was issued,” said Rick Thigpen, a Democratic strategist. “You would certainly wonder was there anything so significantly pressing that it couldn’t wait till after the election.”

In fact, there was a lot of press regarding the subpoena – including comments from Christie – before the election and then a seeming silence since then.  This could be simply a loss of interest after an election, but there has also been no move on Menendez.  There was a very public subpoena and then it quieted down.

I’m not sure which is worse – Ken Zisa’s glowing comments about partisan hack Chris Christie coming from a Democrat, or his comments about the presumption of guilt coming from someone in law enforcement.

New Jersey and Reality TV

Alan Sepinwall has noticed that reality shows features Jerseyans that don’t made the state look good.  So, for those of you worried about Antonella on American Idol, I’d like to point how well New Jersey did today on reality shows.  Just imagine how embarrassed the people of New Mexico, Arkansas, California, Washington, Maryland, and more states feel as their U.S. Attorneys General testify to the House and Senate that they were fired after not bending to political pressure from the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans.  Good thing that New Jersey’s Chris Christie didn’t get fired, so we won’t see New Jersey trashed again on TV.