Posted by The Star-Ledger Editorial Board August 23, 2009
A high horse is a difficult thing to ride, as Chris Christie is finding out. After building his image as a white knight rescuing New Jersey from the dragon of corruption, Christie is showing some gaps in his armor.
The Republican candidate for governor is facing questions about a loan of $46,000 he made to an assistant when he was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, and failed to report on his income tax and financial disclosure forms. He says it was a mistake and is filing amended reports. If there’s no more to this story, it may blow over. Gov. Jon Corzine can’t make much of it without reviving questions about the Democrat’s own financial entanglement with former state labor leader Carla Katz.
Of more concern is the disclosure that, while New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor, Christie spoke with Karl Rove, political guru to George W. Bush.
Christie says they never discussed legal cases; Rove says they talked about Christie’s interest in running for governor. That raises questions about whether Christie took steps toward a campaign while still U.S. Attorney, in possible violation of the Hatch Act.
There’s no legitimate reason for Christie — or any U.S. Attorney — to have spoken with Rove. While at the White House, Rove bulldozed the wall between the Justice Department and politics, rating U.S. Attorneys for “loyalty” and pushing to fire some who wouldn’t mount politically motivated prosecutions. This has given new life to Democrats’ claims that Christie unfairly subpoenaed U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) during his 2006 election campaign in a probe that did not result in charges.
Christie’s record of winning convictions of more than 100 public officials is the key to his appeal. But that rests on the belief he went after bad guys wherever he found them, and that most happened to be Democrats because, well, those were the ones on the make and on the take.
To avoid any political taint, Christie should not have been talking to anyone — especially Rove — about running for office until after he left the Justice Department.