Category Archives: Michele Brown

Beyond Brown: Did Another Top Christie Aide Politicize Prosecutor’s Office To Help Former Boss?

TMPMuckraker-

So far, the charges that Chris Christie turned the U.S. attorney’s office into a “branch office” of his campaign for governor, as Jon Corzine put it yesterday, have centered on the relationship between Christie and Michele Brown, a close friend and top aide to Christie when he was US attorney. Brown reportedly took several actions this year that benefited Christie’s GOP bid for governor, and in 2007 got an undisclosed $46,000 loan from him.

But did another of Christie’s former top aides also put the prosecutor’s office in the service of his one-time boss’s political aspirations? Ralph Marra, who until this month was the acting U.S. attorney, has several times appeared to insert himself into the political back-and-forth over the race, appearing to pointedly criticize a request by the Corzine campaign for public information, and even triggering a Justice Department probe into whether he made inappropriately political public comments that may have boosted Christie.

Let’s look at the facts:

Christie has had a major hand in the Marra’s rise up the prosecutorial ranks. When Christie became U.S. attorney in 2002, he made Marra, a veteran prosecutor, his first assistant, the number 2 post in the office. Then when Christie stepped down last December to run for governor, Marra became acting U.S. attorney. (Marra returned to the first assistant position last week, with the confirmation of the new U.S. attorney, Paul Fishman.)

In July, Marra went before the cameras to announce a high-profile corruption bust that involved the arrests of a bevy of New Jersey mayors, elected officials, and rabbis. (It was this same bust that Brown reportedly tried to change the timing of, in one of her own apparent bids to help Christie.)

The case as a whole was a boon to Christie, under whose leadership much of the investigation had been carried out. And it appeared to damage Corzine, by focusing attention on the state’s rotten political culture which the incumbent governor had earlier pledged to clean up. But at the press conference, Marra made sure that message wasn’t lost, departing from the “just-the-facts” approach that prosecutors customarily take in such cases, and instead seeming to point the finger at the Corzine administration. Said Marra:


There are easily reforms that could be made within this state that would make our job easier, or even take some of the load off our job. There are too many people that profit off the system the way it is and so they have no incentive to change it. The few people that want to change it seem to get shouted down. So how long that cycle’s going to continue I just don’t know.
According to video of the press conference, Marra also declared:

With so many profiting off a corrupt system is it any wonder that few want to change the system? Once again the victims in this are the average citizens and honest business people in this sate. They don’t have a chance in this culture of corruption.

The Justice Department’s internal ethics unit subsequently opened an investigation into whether his comments violated departmental guidelines that forbid political statements from prosecutors. (DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPMmuckraker about the status of the probe.)

Then in August, Marra sent an email to the U.S. attorney’s office staff, obtained by PolitickerNJ.com, in which he slammed the “barrage of FOIA requests” which the Corzine campaign had made earlier that year, seeking information on Christie’s tenure as U.S. attorney. Marra said the requests had “unfairly drawn [the office] into a political campaign.” He also denounced what he called the “wholly trumped up (and then apparently leaked) complaint” by the Corzine campaign that led to the DOJ probe of his press conference comments, and defended those comments as “generic and general.”

As we noted yesterday, back in February Christie had appeared to announce his intention to appoint his former colleagues to positions in his administration, if elected. He told a crowd of supporters: “I’ve got a group of assistant U.S. attorneys sitting down in Newark … I’m going to take a whole group of them to Trenton with me and put them in every one of the departments.”

It’s worth asking whether some of Christie’s former colleagues, like Marra and Brown, decided to use their positions to help make that happen.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Filed under Chris Christie, corruption, Gov. Jon Corzine, Michele Brown, New Jersey, Ralph Marra, Talking Points Memo, US Attorneys Office

Are "Christie’s" U.S. Attorneys Stonewalling the Corzine Campaign?

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.

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Filed under Chris Christie, Daily Kos, Jon Corzine, Kim Guadagono, Lorretta Weinberg, Michele Brown, NJ-Gov. Race, PolitickerNJ, US Attorneys Office

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Christie’s bad move

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chris Christie, the Republican nominee for governor of New Jersey, showed poor judgment twice in lending $46,000 to a subordinate while he was U.S. attorney.
One mistake, as Christie acknowledged this week, was failing to disclose the loan on his income-tax and financial-disclosure forms. Even though the amount of interest income he receives is minimal (about $2,400 per year), Christie has prosecuted people for income-tax evasion in his former job.

The other mistake, which Christie can’t quite seem to understand, was lending the money to a subordinate in the first place. Christie lent the money to a colleague, Michele Brown, who ran up credit-card debts with her husband after he lost his job.

Not only would it have become awkward if Brown failed to pay back the money, but the deal also creates a financial link between the gubernatorial candidate and the federal prosecutor’s office. Christie supposedly broke his ties to that office when he resigned last December.

Christie said he wasn’t trying to hide anything. Regardless, he created a potential conflict for himself that should give voters some concern about his judgment.


Click on headline for link to The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Filed under Chris Christie, editorial, Michele Brown, New Jersey, The Philadelphia Inquirer, US Attorney

Doblin: The New Jersey catechism of politics

By ALFRED DOBLIN -RECORD EDITORIAL COLUMNIST

TRAVEL BACK to Sunday school with me. Somewhere, back in the Sixties, a catechetical instructor explained to me the difference between a sin of commission and a sin of omission.

As I recall, the difference may affect whether you go to hell. Applied to early 21st century New Jersey politics, it may affect who goes to Trenton in January, a place many believe is hell on Earth.

This week, the public learned that Chris Christie, Republican gubernatorial candidate and all-around protector of ethics, failed to disclose a loan made to personal friend and former subordinate in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Michele Brown. The $46,000 loan was not reported on Christie’s federal and state disclosure forms or his tax returns.

Christie has been apologizing all week. He said he and his wife were helping a friend in need. He just forgot to disclose the loan or list the interest on the loan in his tax returns. It was a sin of omission.

He said he made a mistake. It’s a big mistake for a former U.S. attorney to make.

I can accept that people with large incomes and/or cash reserves may think little of lending out $46,000. And Christie Savings and Loan is small potatoes compared to the House of Corzine. Governor Corzine lent former romantic interest Carla Katz nearly $500,000. He eventually forgave that loan.

But there are some differences between the two transactions: Corzine reported the gift and Katz was his girlfriend, not his employee.

I cannot think of any managers believing it is good policy to lend money to persons, friend or not, who work for them. Add to that where both Christie and Brown worked: the U.S. Attorney’s Office. And then do some more math and add on the probability that the boss was going to run for governor while the subordinate would rise in authority as a federal prosecutor.

Sin of omission or sin of commission?

Christie has been thinking about running for governor for some time. He had to know that the loan would be problematic, at best. That would be a sin of commission – knowing you were doing something wrong. If he didn’t intend to do wrong, it’s a sin of omission. Either way, according to my Sunday school teacher, there are consequences for the action taken.

Realistically, this is not the stuff that most New Jerseyans really care about. Unless Christie and Corzine want to start making personal loans to all New Jerseyans in financial straits, most folks who don’t work in politics or live on a diet of politics don’t give a hoot.

But the gubernatorial campaigns have not been centered on the economy, but rather on ethics and choices. Christie says he’s not Corzine and that he will fight corruption tooth and nail. Corzine is running a campaign that says he’s not Karl Rove and Christie really is.

Democrats have long said Christie used his position as a U.S. attorney as a stepping stone for a gubernatorial run. And that politics played too much a part in the decisions of who was targeted for investigation.

Now there is a question of whether Christie is still receiving information on ongoing investigations while a candidate. He can deny it. But it is hard to overlook the fact that one of the top officials in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey owes him money. It is a self-inflicted political wound.

It also is hard to overlook the fact that he gave a personal loan to someone who reported up to him while U.S. attorney. This is the same murky water Democrats swim in. Money, friendship and employment are the absinthe, sugar and water of Jersey political life. It’s cloudy. It’s potent. And it leads to self-delusion.

How could Christie not realize that giving a loan to Brown was more than a financial liability; it was a huge political mistake? It also was ethically wrong. He was her boss.

How could Christie not realize the loan had to be reported? His entire brilliant career as U.S. attorney was constructed on the foundation that money transactions, particularly between people working in government, have to be transparent and reported.

White Knight Christie has fallen off his horse. There are no seat belts on saddles.

But New Jersey doesn’t need a white knight. It needs an honest broker. Among the field of candidates, who is who they say they really are? Not easy to figure out when the answers are not always complete, by chance or design.

Sin of omission? Sin of commission? Either way, the truth is compromised.

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Filed under Alfred Doblin, catechism, Chris Christie, Gov. Jon Corzine, Karla Katz, Michele Brown, New Jersey, Sunday school, The Record

Harper’s Magazine: Manure for the Garden State

Harper’s Magazine’s Scott Horton wrote an excellent piece yesterday detailing how Chris Christie may have used his influence with friends/former employees left over at the US Attorneys Office to stage some political theather to effect the New Jersey race for governor by moving forward on a corruption crackdown that netted 44 politicians, officials and religious leaders in one day last month.

When you add this information together with possible Hatch act violantions and his loan of $46,000 to an employee in the US Attorney’s Office, Michele Brown, and his failures to disclose it on finanical statements and ELEC reports, a clear picture is starting to emerge that Chris Christie may not be the “White Knight” of political corruption busting that he wishes every to believe he is. His suit of armour as the say “Is tarneshed” :
On July 23, Acting U.S. Attorney in New Jersey Ralph Marra grabbed the nation’s attention by stepping before the cameras to announce the fruits of a long political corruption investigation managed by his office. Forty-four individuals had been indicted on charges that demonstrated the “pervasive nature of public corruption in this state,” he said. The haul included two state assemblymen, the mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus, and Ridgefield, and numerous lesser figures. “The politicians willingly put themselves up for sale,” Marra told the press. “For these defendants, corruption was a way of life. They existed in an ethics-free zone.” He praised the long work of the FBI and his team. But of course the media proceeded to credit the man who launched and oversaw the probe for most of its course, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie.

As it happens, Christie is the Republican candidate to replace Jon Corzine as governor of New Jersey. He’s running on an anti-corruption platform, and this news—which stole headlines for a solid week—helped to propel him to a solid lead over the incumbent in the polls.

Watching this unfold, it was hard not to notice how convenient it all was for the Christie campaign. The announcement reflected a substantial number of largely unrelated cases, but they had been aggregated and held for arrests all on the same day as a sort of batch-release. Whatever law-enforcement considerations justified this step, it clearly helped gain newspaper headlines. Moreover, the announcement came at the end of July, which is the last possible moment for indictments with political impact in an election year cycle. Department of Justice guidelines preclude a U.S. attorney from announcing politically-charged indictments in a campaign season, which, by general reckoning, would begin the following month.

So it all looked good for Chris Christie—his accusations of public corruption were dramatically validated in newspaper headlines, and he was presented as a sort of Thomas E. Dewey—a clean prosecutor in a position to right the situation. But now, suddenly the Associated Press reported that the

Justice Department was examining whether acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra made inappropriate public comments that boosted Republican Chris Christie’s political challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. Before running for office, Christie was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, and Marra was his top deputy. Marra made the comments last month while announcing the corruption case against dozens of suspects.

But the investigation may wind up reaching far beyond an error in judgment about specific words used at a press conference or the timing of the announcement of indictments. The Justice Department’s internal probe comes just as The New York Times reveals the existence of a significant, undisclosed financial relationship between Christie and Michele A. Brown, another prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office. In response to an appeal from Brown, whose husband had lost his job, Christie loaned her $46,000 and took a mortgage on her home as security. The matter raises interest because failure to report this dealing is potentially a crime—and indeed, in the group of 44 political figures whose indictment was announced on July 23, one—Bergen County Democrat Dennis Oury—was indicted specifically for filing financial statements that failed to disclose a holding in a company that received public funds.

Today, Christie sounds remarkably like Mr. Oury:

“When I make mistakes, I’m going to admit them,” he said, adding that he had already amended some of those filings and would finish the rest by Friday. “It was certainly nothing that I was trying to conceal or hide.”…

Read More >>>Here

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Filed under Chris Christie, ethical violations, Gov. Jon Corzine, Harper Magazine, Hatch Act, Michele Brown, New Jersey, political corruption, Ralph Marra, Scott Horton, U.S Attorney Office