by Steve Singiser – Daily Kos
Sat Aug 22, 2009
Since early in the Spring (over 150 days ago, according to a clock helpfully placed in an online ad on PolitickerNJ), the campaign of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has been waiting on a Freedom of Information Act request. Back in March, Team Corzine began asking for documents pertaining to Chris Christie and his tenure in the U.S. Attorneys Office. A fishing expedition, perhaps, but one that is pretty common in campaigns.
The response, shall we say, has been lacking. Therefore, on Thursday, Team Corzine looked to kick it up a notch, filing several administrative challenges to the D.O.J. complaining about the stonewalling:
“The United States Attorney’s office has many fine, dedicated, professional lawyers,” said Corzine strategist Tom Shea. “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.”
Friday morning, in a press release, they took it a step further, as Corzine’s nominee for Lt. Governor, state Senator Loretta Weinberg, made what would seem to be a pretty reasonable request:
Senator Loretta Weinberg today called on Assistant United States Attorney Michele Brown to be removed from having any participation in fulfilling the Corzine ’09 campaign’s FOIA requests after it was revealed in the Star-Ledger that Brown is “playing a role in the process of retrieving” the documents requested by the Corzine ’09 campaign.
In recent days, it was revealed that Christie has an ongoing financial relationship with Brown, the number two lawyer in the U.S. Attorney’s office, which he failed to disclose in either his personal financial disclosure forms or tax returns. Citing Brown’s potential conflict of interest, Weinberg called today for Brown to be removed off the task of retrieving any of the FOIA requests.
So, if the Corzine campaign is correct on this one, the person who was working on fulfilling those requests for information on Chris Christie was someone who owes Chris Christie almost fifty grand. Armed with that nugget of information, it is not hard to see why the delivery on said requests has been a tad tardy.
For their part, the U.S. Attorney’s office is denying that Brown is in charge of such requests, saying that she has played a role, but only because some of the documents pertained to her.
This whole episode, nonetheless, is why the financial arrangement between Christie and Brown was a horrific idea on Christie’s part, if he was contemplating a political career (and, from all reports, he was contemplating one for quite some time).
Even taking Christie at his word (that he was simply giving a hand to a friend in need), the optics of a political candidate shelling out what we presume was an unsecured loan for that amount, to someone in a capacity to assist him politically (perhaps by…say…sitting on an FOIA request for said candidate’s opponent), looks just awful. The appearance of impropriety is glaring, even if everything is on the up-and-up.
This also, it would seem, is going to put the U.S. Attorney’s office in Jersey into an incredible bind, even to the point of potentially jeopardizing some of their prosecutorial ability, if some of their targets can paint the office as driven by partisan political motivation. Given how many bad guys come before that office over the course of time, offering them that kind of potential “out” is terribly troublesome.
Christie could, of course, dampen the effects of that by coming completely clean on the present state of his relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s office. At this point, however, he seems to have clammed up:
On Thursday, Christie refused to answer questions for a second day. His campaign had said he’d be available.
Appearing at a senior center in Garfield, Christie said he and running mate Kim Guadagno would “take the heat when it comes.” However, he went in through a side door, held off press queries during the event, then pointedly refused to answer who he’s still in contact with at the U.S. attorney’s office and how informed he is about day-to-day activities there.
The conventional wisdom a while ago was that the only way Jon Corzine could be re-elected was if (a) the economy recovered faster than expected or (b) Christie’s reputation as the “corruption fighter” could be tarnished. The first condition might prove a difficult get by November (although New Jersey did add jobs in the month of July), but the second condition seems to be becoming more and more plausible.