Tag Archive: Tom Moran

Chris Christie: Caught in The US Attorney Web of Lies

Today in the Daily Record, US Attorney for the NJ District Chris “Christie said he was told in December that he was on the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired, but in January was told his name had been taken off the list.” 

On May 18th, Star Ledger columnist Tom Moran (article behind firewall, but same timeline given in WaPo) quoted Christie with an entirely different timeline.

Chris Christie was in Florida watching his children splash around a pool two months ago when he received an urgent e-mail from a senior official at the Justice Department telling him to call.

It was from John Elston, a man he had known for years. Christie stepped into his hotel room, dialed Elston’s number, and got the shock of his life.

Elston had a warning for him. The growing scandal over the firing of eight United States attorneys was about to come his way.

Christie, in fact, had only narrowly escaped being fired. His name was on one of the original kill lists. It was removed only a few weeks before the decisions were made final. This one was a close call.

Two months before May 18th would be the middle of March, about three months after he just told the Daily Record he learned of his place on the list.  And how did he react in March?

“I was speechless,” Christie says. “I just could not believe I was someone who was being actively considered for being fired. It makes you search yourself and ask: `Was I doing my job well?'”

Strange reaction if he’d known for a couple months that he was in the clear.

Chris Christie’s Conflicting Stories
Tom Moran 5/28 Daily Record 8/3
What: Learned in the same phone call that he had been on the list of US Attorneys to be fired, but was now off the list.  Also learned that it was about to become public. What: Learned in first phone call that he was on the list of US Attorneys to be fired.  Learned in second phone call the next month that he was off the list.  No word on when it would become public.
When: Single day, March 2007 When:First call in December 2006, second call in January 2007
Where: On vacation with his family in Florida Christie received an e-mail by the pool to call DC, and then went into his room to take the call. Where: All we can surmise is he was in New Jersey for both calls.
Reaction: “I was speechless,” Christie says. “I just could not believe I was someone who was being actively considered for being fired.” Reaction: Did not provide any info.

The contradiction is not easy to parse, because he was quite clear about getting making the call in his Florida hotel room after getting an e-mail at the pool while playing with his kids.  And he was speechless, not believing what he heard that he was on the list, but also safe — all in one phone call!

But the story he told today was totally different.  Now he is in New Jersey in December (there was no vacation or pool) when he heard he was on the list.  He then had to wait an entire month until January 2007 — after the scandal broke — to learn that his job was safe.

Now, both these situations are pretty memorable.  If I found out at the Christmas (Christie is Catholic) holidays that my job was in jeopardy, and then had to go through New Years thinking about getting fired it would stick in my head.

There’s no way that this is a simple misconception or the famous Republican, “I can’t recall.”  One of these stories is an outright lie. 

Why is this important?  For one, Christie is portraying himself as some sort of ethical crusader who is above reproach, the self-appointed scourge of corruption.  He and his supporters are outraged when his integrity is questioned over the Menendez subpoena right in the heat of the campaign, or when he inserts himself in the middle of a State Supreme Court nomination, or when his bi-partisan record is not as robust as it seemed, or when he tapes highly political “news” pieces with political mentors.

And yet when he gets caught up in a national scandal related to his job, his boss (AG Gonzales) and his political benefactor (President Bush) he chooses to lie about it.

And that brings us to the bigger point, and more important one.  The US Attorney scandal would have been a small ripple on a larger pond had the lies not piled up.  Most folks in the media and on main street would have let it go since the President can fire or keep US Attorney at his pleasure.

But first the political appointees at Justice lied about why the prosecutors were fired, and the prosecutors fought back with facts and accusations of political interference in their jobs.

Then the politicians like Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) started lying about their roles in the firings.

Then the AG and his staff went in front of Congress and they started contradicting each other’s sworn testimony, and people started resigning in disgrace.

The Congress continues to try to get straight answers and determine exactly what happened, but the White House claims executive privilege and then the staff who does testify either don’t recall anything that happened two months ago or give conflicting accounts.

The entity charged with overseeing the executive branch is being bamboozled and confused and lied to in order to keep it from making a determination whether the law was broken.  Whether intentional or not, whether illegal or not, it amounts to a major obstruction of justice. 

And Christie is a part of the story.  He was put on the list before he dropped a subpoena that affected the Menendez/Kean Jr. race, and then after the election was taken off the list.  That’s suspicious in and of itself.

And now Christie is lying, just like the rest of the Bush administration involved in this case, about when, how and where he found out that he was on and then on the list of US Attorneys to be fired.  It was either all at once in Florida on vacation with the family in March, or it was over a month or more in New Jersey over the Christmas and New Years holiday.

Lies either serve a purpose, or they are an indication of an ethically challenged person.  When there is no reason for a lie, nothing to gain from the lie, generally the person is just a liar.

So the media, and I think in particular Tom Moran who has written some almost hagiographic pieces about Christie and transcribed one of his stories quite dramatically, needs to find out what this is.

UPDATE: We got an e-mail suggesting that the reason for the change in story may be direction from on-high.  They suggested, though I don’t recall, that the AG said all US Attorneys were told in the fall of their status.  Christie’s comment that he didn’t know until March would contradict that.  Does anyone have a link to that claim by the AG?

Combative Hissy Fits

Tom Moran has a strange way of looking at the world, well evidenced by his column today on the Gill/Christie/Rabner/Corzine kerfluffle from the past week.

Moran announced today that Gill’s part in this was a “hissy fit.”  Gill kept to herself, was quiet and didn’t run to the press.  She threatened to throw the media out of her committee room if they didn’t shut up about the issue.  And after meeting in private with Rabner about the issue dropped her block on his nomination and again didn’t comment on it to the media.  I didn’t know that “hissy” meant quietly standing your ground.

Christie whined to the media that the very people who appointed and supported Rabner for the highest judgeship in the land weren’t being nice enough while doing it.  He demanded that the people of New Jersey rise up against the “corrupt” people who appointed and backed Rabner because Rabner’s appointment might be delayed a few days while the issues were worked out. This Moran glowingly referred to as “combativeness.”

You want a hissy fit?  Here’s how Moran described Christie’s part in all this:

For the first time, Christie took off the restraints and went after the Democrats in Trenton with real gusto.

He called their behavior “petty,” “cowardly” and “appalling.” He described the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Adler, as a “third-rate bureaucrat.”

And he went directly at Corzine, saying the governor gave us silence when we needed leadership.

“I was angry,” Christie said yesterday. “And when I have something to say, I will say it.”

According to Moran this “combative” hero called people names because he was angry.  Christie, in his own words, doesn’t have the impulse control to shut up when he’s angry — even hours later.

And Moran laments that Governor Jon Corzine — this is the guy who successfully nominated Rabner for Attorney General and then worked to clear the way for his appointment to Chief Justice — doesn’t have Chris Christie’s sort of combativeness.

But here’s how Moran described the Governor’s part in this:

The governor later noted he had defended Rabner that same day, praising his character and intellect.

True enough. But by then, the governor’s office knew Christie was busy loading his guns. And while Corzine praised Rabner, he didn’t take the next step of criticizing Gill’s behavior or the abuse of senatorial courtesy.

The governor’s staff was worried that making a fuss over Gill’s behavior might harden her resistance. And they note that the governor got the job done in the end — he nominated a great candidate, and he’s almost certain to win confirmation. The kinder and gentler approach worked.

True enough. But wouldn’t it be great if Corzine had at least some of Christie’s combativeness?

Let’s leave out the fact that Corzine was combative enough to shut down the entire state government last year rather than compromise his budget program.  Or that he stared down the unions this year and got concessions from them for the first time in years.

Or leave out that Corzine got what he wanted — Stu Rabner as Chief Justice of the NJ State Supreme Court for up to three decades. 

No, what Corzine should have done was whined and called people names.  That is what passes for good government these days.  Not getting the job done, or balancing budgets, or winning appointments, or accomplishing your goals.  All that is a waste of time, I guess.

No, what we need — according to the pundit class — is more politicians willing to step up to the microphones and complain, whine and wheedle when things don’t go their way.

Coincidentally, that’s what makes for easy column writing and sells newspapers.

Moran Blows It

As a columnist, I like Tom Moran. A lot. And I know quite a few people who know him personally and speak very highly of him. But I’ve got to say that I found something in his Star-Ledger column this morning really offensive. Here’s a comment he made on Senator Menendez’s deep involvement in Congressional immigration talks.

No one was closer to the action on this one than U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), himself an immigrant from Cuba, and one of only three Latino senators.

Senator Menendez is not “an immigrant from Cuba.” And what bothers me is that Tom Moran knows this. It’s the Senator’s parents that were immigrants from Cuba. Menendez himself was born right across the Hudson in New York City.

It could easily be said that the offensive part here is that Moran assumed Menendez was an immigrant just because he’s Hispanic. But at no point would I ever assume that Tom Moran of all people would make a mistake like this based on any sort of inherent racism. Rather, it’s the sloppiness of the claim that is so offensive. Moran just had to endure a year’s worth of biographical information about the Senator — he knows better. This kind of laziness has no place in otherwise solid journalism.

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.

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.

Tom Moran Explains Why It’s Time for Ernie to Go!

Personally, I think Tom Moran misses the point more than he hits it, but in his column today, he clearly explains why it’s time for the voters of the 5th District to give old Ernie the heave-ho:

Garrett is a born-again Christian who wants public schools to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, and to set aside time for prayer each day.

He believes you have the right to keep an assault weapons in your closet, and says he may back legislation to let you to carry a concealed handgun as well.

He wants to open the Alaskan wilderness to oil drilling, and has voiced no objection to drilling off the Jersey Shore.

Last year, he was one of 11 to vote against providing relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Smile – Some Good News at Last!

Soaring Property Taxes, Pay-to-play Corruption, Ugly primary battles, ack! – Calgon, take me away!

Considering all the bloodboiling political stories New Jersey serves up day in and day out, a tip of the hat goes to Tom Moran of the Star Ledger for his story on the positive effects of environmental legislation.

Journalists [and, often, bloggers] are supposed to be watchdogs, so we tend to focus on stories that expose corruption, waste and plain stupidity in government. In New Jersey, there is plenty of that to keep us busy.

But sometimes, the politicians do the right thing. The Arthur Kill is cleaner today for one reason — because the federal and state governments forced change with heavy-handed regulations

Amen.

Our environment is a treasure that everyone – from liberal democrats to evangelical christians can agree is worth preserving. (Well almost everybody.)

So, smile – go take a swim – and relax. You deserve it. But, don’t get too comfortable – our work here is far from done.

Time to Pay the Piper: The Budget Fight

The main issue in last year’s race was the budget.  I know it might have seemed like it was who could spend more money on mean-spirited ads, but the reality is that New Jersey is in dire financial shape and both candidates probably knew it.  New Jersey picked the right candidate to deal with the problem.

Jon Corzine is confronting the budget crisis, with a blueprint that calls for spending cuts and tax hikes.  South Jersey Democrats are going to fight him because they are haunted by the ghosts of Florio past and because their political strength is not built on fiscal responsibility.

Tom Moran’s column is a must-read.

The budget Corzine presented last week is nothing but bad news. It was all spending cuts and tax hikes. It’s no wonder there were no applause lines in his speech.

The governor wrote this one himself, mostly. He didn’t use the TelePrompTer. And he cracked a smile only once, when he flubbed a line.

But this lack of polish has its charm. It’s almost as if Corzine is telling us he has no time for frills and no interest in puffery. He has work to do.

“We haven’t done much for my re-election prospects,” he said later. “But I love this stuff.”

The man is a classic wonk. For the last two months, he’s been por ing over budget minutia, working marathon days that start with staff meetings as early as 7:30 a.m. and often end with late-night work ses sions over take-out pizza.

Now we have his work product.

And like it or not, this is a budget with integrity. He’s closing a deficit he inherited with two parts spending cuts and one part tax increase.

He’s averting a looming disaster by funding the pension system, putting in more money in one year than previous governors did in the last nine years combined. And by raising the sales tax, he’s picking the one that makes most sense by far.

Wall Street is impressed. And most legislators say they see no sign yet of a tax revolt, probably because these tax hikes are only one-third the size of the Florio tax hikes, and because voters aren’t as grouchy in today’s growing economy.

Watch this fight.  It is going to color the Menendez-Kean campaign, it is going to reveal the true characters in the legislature, and it is a model for what the USA will have to deal with when Bush is no longer President and the Chinese decide they’ve had enough of lending us hundreds of billions a year.

The Public Pension System

Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger has a commentary this morning on the pension system for public employees. He cites abuses and legal tricks, such as:

Edison Police Chief Edward Costello is one lucky guy. On his final day in office, he negotiated a whopping pay hike that boosted his pension to $115,000 a year. That’s on top of the $62,000 he got for unused vacation and sick time.

In Newark a few months ago, the deputy police director retired to take a pension, then was rehired to do the same job as a consultant, for a combined income of $221,000. It was apparently legal, but so embarrassing that the plan was scratched.

South Orange allowed 11 police officers to boost their pensions by counting unused vacation time as salary. Bradley Beach gave several top officials big raises in their final year, and counted sick and vacation time as salary.

Wow.