Tag Archive: foia

More than 1,000 pages of FOIA records-request documents on Bill Baroni released by Port Authority

Today, more than 1,000 pages of documents related to Bill Baroni’s time working for the Port Authority of New York & NJ were released to the public. The docs, obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records request to the PA by progressive PAC American Bridge show meetings with senior advisors to Gov. Chris Christie and expense account records and tickets related to Baroni’s travel in 2013. American Bridge lists NJ and Christie first in a list of issues they’re monitoring.

Review the full 1,000-plus pages of FOIA-requested docs here.

There’s no overt mention in Baroni’s calendar of the GWB scheme. But among items that jump out:  

Port Authority Friday Night FOIA Dump

We’ve been watching the Port Authority’s website. Late tonight, PA posted responses to a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents related to the sudden closure of local lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September, 2013.

We’re still looking through these; there’s a lot of electronic paper, and dozens of media requests and requests from groups like Judicial Watch.

What we’ve seen so far, below the fold:

Why did Chris Christie spend $700 on a limo from Newark to AC?

I really don’t want to hear about Chris Christie rail against government waste anymore. Millenium Radio took a further look at some of Chris Christie’s expenditures as US Attorney:

Brown also approved another controversial expenditure for Christie: a $700 round-trip limousine ride between Newark and Atlantic City. Christie, according to his schedules, was attending the annual dinner of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey. He was shuttled to Atlantic City, stayed over night at the Taj Mahal, submitted $190 in expenses, and took the same limo service back to Newark the next day. Brown approved the final travel voucher for Christie’s reimbursement. According to the limousine service, a $700 round-trip fare from Newark to Atlantic City gets you a stretch limo that seats 8.

“Listen, I have no recollection of that,” explains Christie. “I’d have to look at records which I don’t have to see it and that was not my normal practice….. Those of you who covered me during my seven and a half years as U.S. Attorney know that was not my normal practice. I drove everywhere……..I never took a stretch limousine.”

Brown would be Michele Brown, who seems to be involved in many of the Christie stories. It doesn’t matter if Christie says it wasn’t his normal practice, he practiced it here and unless they overcharged him for a Yugo, the limo company says he did in fact take a stretech limo. But it wasn’t just his rides where he went overboard:

Records turned over so far show Christie exceeded the government lodging allowance on 23 of 30 business trips taken between 2004 and 2008. In some cases, his travel vouchers were approved first by Brown, then certified by a third person. Christie, who was Brown’s supervisor, signed off on her travel, either in advance or when she submitted vouchers, the records show. The vouchers were all certified by a third party.

Here’s Christie’s justificiation for his hotel expenditures and travel, which of course he blames on someone else anyway:

“My secretary made my hotel reservations every time I had to travel and the instructions were very clear: find a government rate if you could, and if you couldn’t, get me the best rate at the most convenient hotel,” explained Christie yesterday. Asked if he signed all of the accompanying paperwork, he responded, “Yes, I have to sign my own forms, but I don’t always know what government rate is.”

Nothing is ever Chris Christie’s fault.  According to Chris, his secretary made the travel arrangements, the motorcyclist hit him and the tow truck driver identified him as US attorney in his other traffic situation. And when asked about the rules for everyone else should this case arise in his administration:

Christie was also asked if elected Governor, would he allow his cabinet to stay in five-star hotels. He replied, “I would want my cabinet to follow the same rules I followed as U.S. Attorney. If they were traveling and they could find the government rate they should use the government rate and if they couldn’t they shouldn’t sleep on park bench. They should find the best rate they could.”

In the same statement, he says they should follow the same rules he did, but find the best rate. The only problem were his rules to his secretary were the “best rate at the most convenient hotel.” An interesting caveat that once again demonstrates one set of rules for Christie and another set for everyone else, even when he says its the same treatment. Here’s what CREW had to say about the expenditures, which they called “astonishing:”

“I’m sure he knew better, and he chose to ignore the rules,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “There is never a situation where the only available hotel in Washington is the Four Seasons. If you stay there, you’ve chosen luxury and you’ve chosen to ignore the rules.”

Once again, Christie can’t remember why he ignored the rules and as usual when he does actually remember something, it’s someone else’s fault. This is the guy who wants you to trust him that he will make the change which he can’t tell you about until he gets there.

How Christie Wasted Taxpayer’s Money

Promoted by Jason Springer: No wonder they didn’t want to honor the FOIA requests.

Chris Christie promises us that he will cut spending if he is elected Governor, but apparently he doesn’t have a history of being very frugal with taxpayer funds:

The Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, who has campaigned on a platform of ethical integrity and cutting government waste, regularly spent beyond federal guidelines on business travel while U.S. attorney, records show.

The newly released travel records show that Chris Christie occasionally billed taxpayers more than $400 a night for stays in luxury hotels and exceeded the government’s hotel allowance on 14 of 16 business trips he took in 2008.

And, do you know who stayed with him?  His good friend Michele Brown, who got Christie’s permission to stay in five star hotels on the public dime in addition to getting huge loans from her boss.

On trips in 2007 and 2008, his top deputy, Michele Brown, also exceeded the guidelines after Christie approved her requests for rooms in the same five-star hotels where he was booked.

The AP, who wrote the story, tried to make this look just a little salacious.

The vouchers show Christie and Brown stayed at the NineZero Hotel in Boston on Oct. 16, 2007 and each billed taxpayers $449 plus taxes and fees for their rooms, more than double the government allowance for a Boston hotel room at the time, according to a General Services Administration travel reimbursement table.

The former federal prosecutor submitted a waiver for the room in Boston, as required. In it, he requested additional lodging expenses because there were no rooms available at the $203 per night government rate “due to a high demand for rooms.”

Christie made a mortgage loan to Brown five days after they returned from Boston, on Oct. 22, 2007. He failed to report the loan on federal ethics forms and on his 2007 federal income tax returns, omissions he later described as a mistake. Brown has since resigned and joined a private law firm.

Yikes.

Corzine campaign files FOIA legal challenges

If there’s nothing to all this, then it’s to the US Attorney’s Office’s benefit to release these documents. It’s to Christie’s benefit. He talks a lot about ethics. Let’s see if that talk extends to action. Let’s see if Christie comes out in favor of transparency.

The cascading stories of questionable conduct inside the United States Attorney’s Office – both during Chris Christie’s tenure, and now following it – are reason enough for the Corzine campaign, and anyone valuing ethical conduct, to want to get at the truth. Jon Corzine knows that without facts, Christie’s story of his own success there goes unchallenged. And the facts, once they come to light, may reveal a more complicated story.

Today, the Corzine ’09 campaign filed legal challenges under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to break what they call five months of stonewalling that have kept basic public records of Christie’s actions as US Attorney from light.

Eight adminstrative challenges – representing 18 separate requests – were filed with the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Information and Privacy. The campaign’s sought these records – budgets, travel expenses, schedules – since March, each attempt met with a logjam originating in the USAO here in NJ.

In fact, in a Corzine ad running on another site, a countdown clock registers the “stonewall” time at 155 days: 19 hrs: 21 min: 49 seconds – as I write this.

They also seek details of no-bid contracts Christie awarded, including one worth $52 million to his former boss – and fellow Bush crony – John Ashcroft. His communications with Karl Rove – the “architect” of George Bush’s political career (now also the subject of separate investigation by a watchdog group) and between Christie and those who succeeded him in the US Attorney’s Office, are also sought.

Corzine ’09 campaign strategist Tom Shea:

The United States Attorney’s office has many fine, dedicated, professional lawyers. But, in light of recent reports that Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra is under investigation to determine if he has used the office to help further the Christie campaign, Second Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Brown has an ongoing financial relationship with Christie and Christie was communicating with Karl Rove about his run for governor from that office, we feel it is even more important we receive the information requested.

If Christie has nothing to hide, if the US Attorney’s Office doesn’t, then let’s see those records.

 

Cryan files ELEC complaint, Pascrell wants Federal investigation, Corzine campaign asks “why”

Joe Cryan wants an an immediate investigation by ELEC into Christie’s failure to disclose a personal loan of $46,000 to Michele Brown, currently the first assistant to the United States Attorney, promoted since Christie’s resignation.  

“Christie continues to fail to live up to the ethical standards he sets for others,” said Cryan.  “He is running for Governor — failing to report a personal loan to a close colleague is a serious transgression and breaks both federal and state ethics rules.  Christie, of all people should know – he has prosecuted public officials for similar offenses, yet, he dismisses his own unscrupulous behavior as a simply an ‘oversight.’ This situation demands an immediate and thorough investigation.”

[snip]

“Christie also must come clean about the questions this blatant conflict of interest raises – does he discuss his campaign with Brown?” said Cryan.  “How have their financial ties affected his candidacy?  It raises serious concerns about the stark contrast between what Christie says and what he actually does.  Despite Christie’s dismissal of this serious violation he is not above approach and just like any other New Jerseyan who violates the law Christie must be held accountable for his actions.”

And while Cryan pursues action on the state level, Congressman Bill Pascrell wants a federal investigation to ensue:

“Add this to the growing list of Christie’s capers,” said Pascrell. “Is it mere coincidence that Mr. Christie’s personal life is again in conflict with his public obligations? A prosecutor at his level should know that once he gave that loan, no matter how well-intended it was, it changed the relationship between Mr. Christie and Ms. Brown. We have a right to know to what extent it changed. At the very least, this is a conflict of interest.”

The Governor for his part has stayed focused on the Rove ties to Christie, stressing that he thinks the Hatch violations are the most serious. But his campaign did comment on the situation and tied it to their larger request for information that still hasn’t been met:

“Serious questions remain about the loan Chris Christie gave to Michele Brown. Chris Christie had at least four opportunities to comply with the law and disclose this loan, yet he failed to do so each and every time. There seems to be no mystery that he was determined to keep it secret. The question is, why?”

“Christie and the U.S. Attorney’s Office need to begin providing answers. They can start by immediately providing the specific dates of the promotions and salary increases Christie gave Michele Brown. We have filed a Freedom of Information Act request requesting this information, but our previous requests for such basic public information have been bottled up by Christie’s friends for more than five months. The public shouldn’t have to wait a day longer.”

“Finally, as the number two in command in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Michele Brown must be objective about pursuing criminal cases in New Jersey in a non-partisan manner. But how can she possibly be objective when she remains indebted – literally – to the Republican candidate for governor? U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra is also reportedly facing questions about whether he inappropriately helped Christie’s campaign. This whole episode raises grave questions about impartiality in our justice system, and the public deserves answers.”

It’s clear that the Democrats smell blood after the most recent weeks news and that’s a question they will keep asking. The more they broaden the issue to show how connecting all of the dots continues to undermine who Christie wants people to believe he is, the more effective it will be I think.