Category Archives: US Attorneys Office

Display Of Nepotism By Christie Raised Concern Among Prosecutors In U.S. Attorney’s Office

By Joe Ryan/The Star-Ledger

Days before announcing his resignation as a federal prosecutor, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie agreed to hire the son of his friend and mentor, Herbert J. Stern, as an assistant U.S. attorney.

The move sparked public criticism from Democrats, who accused Christie of using his post as New Jersey’s top federal law enforcement official for patronage. But interviews last week showed it also drew private concern from prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark.

Christie hired Samuel Stern over objections from nearly every assistant U.S. attorney who interviewed him, according to three federal law enforcement officials with knowledge of the hiring process.

They contended Stern, who at the time was two years out of law school, lacked the experience to become a federal prosecutor, the officials said. And before hiring him, Christie took the unusual step of changing the interview process after receiving negative reviews, according to the officials who spoke to The Star-Ledger on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter.

Christie declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he defended hiring Stern.

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


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, 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

NEW CHRISTIE BOMBSHELL-NYT: Christie May Have Gotten Improper Aid

The New York Times – By DAVID M. HALBFINGER

When news broke in August that the former United States attorney, Christopher J. Christie, had lent $46,000 to a top aide in the federal prosecutor’s office, he said he was merely helping a friend in need. He also said the aide, Michele Brown, had done nothing to help his gubernatorial campaign.

But interviews with federal law enforcement officials suggest that Ms. Brown used her position in two significant and possibly improper ways to try to aid Mr. Christie in his run for governor.

In March, when Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s campaign requested public records about Mr. Christie’s tenure as prosecutor, Ms. Brown interceded to oversee the responses to the inquiries, taking over for the staff member who normally oversaw Freedom of Information Act requests, according to federal law enforcement officials in Newark and Washington. The requested information included records about Mr. Christie’s travel and expenses, along with Ms. Brown’s travel records.

In mid-June, when F.B.I. agents and prosecutors gathered to set a date for the arrests of more than 40 targets of a corruption and money-laundering probe, Ms. Brown alone argued for the arrests to be made before July 1. She later told colleagues that she wanted to ensure that the arrests occurred before Mr. Christie’s permanent successor took office, according to three federal law enforcement officials briefed on the conversation, presumably so that Mr. Christie would be given credit for the roundup.

The federal law enforcement officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were barred from speaking on the record.

Ms. Brown declined to be interviewed for this story. In an e-mail message to The New York Times, she called the allegations “outrageous and inaccurate,” but declined to answer further questions. Through a spokesman, Mr. Christie stood by his earlier assertions that Ms. Brown had not assisted his campaign in any way.

News of Mr. Christie’s loan to Ms. Brown broke in August, dealing a blow to his candidacy, and he apologized for failing to report it on his tax returns and ethics filings.

Less than two weeks later, Justice Department officials told Mr. Christie’s interim replacement, Ralph Marra, to remove Ms. Brown from acting as coordinator of the Freedom of Information Act requests about Mr. Christie’s tenure because of the obvious conflict of interest, according to a federal law enforcement official briefed on the communications. Ms. Brown resigned from the prosecutor’s office the same day, the official said.

She took a job at a law firm with close ties to Mr. Christie — a firm that represented one of five companies identified as targets in his office’s investigation of kickbacks among makers of artificial hips and knees. Ms. Brown had led the case and, with Mr. Christie, negotiated a settlement in which the company paid a fine and avoided criminal charges.

Allegations that Mr. Christie played politics as a prosecutor have dogged him; reports that he discussed a run for governor with Karl Rove in 2006 led Democrats to assert he had violated the Hatch Act, which forbids candidates from “testing the waters” for a run for office.

The possibility that Ms. Brown may have helped Mr. Christie’s campaign from inside the United States attorney’s office casts a new light on their relationship and on the prosecutor’s office. Federal law and Justice Department policy prohibit prosecutors from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”

The arrests of 44 people in the corruption and money-laundering case on July 23 drew national attention and put a spotlight on New Jersey’s reputation for corruption. Mr. Christie had built his reputation battling public corruption, and the case served to remind voters of his record and underscore that corruption remained a persistent statewide problem, one that could require a new governor to root out.

As it turned out, there was no need to hurry up the corruption arrests to ensure that they would redound to Mr. Christie’s credit: the Obama appointee who replaced him, Paul J. Fishman, was not installed until last Wednesday.

Mr. Christie has said he and his wife are close friends of Ms. Brown and her husband. The couples live a few hundred yards apart in Mendham, N.J.

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Filed under Chris Christie, ethics, Freedom of Information Act, Gov. Jon Corzine, Michele A. Brown, repayment of loans, The New York Times, US Attorneys Office

Did Christie Break DOJ Rules By Pulling Rank On Traffic Stop?

From TPMMuckraker:

New Jersey GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie’s spotty driving record is one thing. But what’s worse is that he may have violated clear Justice Department guidelines by pulling rank with cops on the scene.

Today we learned about a 2002 episode in which Christie hit a motorcyclist after making a wrong-turn that had him briefly going the wrong way down a one-way street in Elizabeth. The motorcyclist ended up in hospital, but Christie didn’t get so much as a ticket. And a police official told the Star Ledger that Christie “did identify himself as U.S. attorney.”

That would seem to contravene Justice Department guidelines on standards of conduct, which state:

Use of Title. With rare exceptions, employees engage in outside activities in their private rather than official capacities. Therefore, when engaging in outside activities in their private capacity, employees may not indicate or represent in any way that they are acting on behalf of the Department, or that they are acting in their official capacity.
But wait! According to the Star-Ledger, Christie was on his way to the swearing-in of the Union County prosecutor at the time of the accident. That means that he could at least make the case that the standards might not apply in this case, since he wasn’t engaging in an outside activity in a private capacity.

But that’s not the only dodgy driving Christie incident we’ve learned about lately. In 2005, Christie was cited for speeding and for driving in an unregistered, uninsured vehicle after being pulled over by cops in Lambertville. The local police director has said that, as in the Elizabeth case, Christie “identified himself” as a U.S. attorney.

And in this case, Christie almost certainly wasn’t acting in an official capacity. He’s said he was with his family and his deputy, Michele Brown, and that the group was on its way to a University of Delaware football game. That means the Justice Department guidelines almost certainly would apply.

A lawyer for the Justice Department offered support for that notion, telling TPMmuckraker in an email:

One of the first things you are trained on as part of your orientation is that you never ever ever ever attempt to avoid traffic citations or legal penalties by showing your credentials to an officer or by telling an officer who you are. You are shown videos of people attempting it, you sign a statement stating that you will not misuse credentials or position, and you are told in no uncertain terms that not only is such behavior a violation of Department policy – a Department Christie was employed with as a United States Attorney – it is also a serious ethical violation as an attorney.

The lawyer called Christie’s rank-pulling “inexcusable, because it is so clearly a violation of the public trust and his obligations as an attorney.”

And a former federal prosecutor agreed, saying via email “we were told quite explicitly that flashing creds to get out of a ticket was a serious misuse of authority.”

The Christie campaign hasn’t responded to multiple attempts over at TPMDC to contact them about the incident. We’ll keep you posted if we get a response.

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Filed under Chris Christie, motor vehicle violation, Talking Points Memo, US Attorneys Office

Corzine Campaign Statement On The Brown Resignation

The following statement was released by Corzine campaign spokesperson, Elisabeth Smith, shortly after the sudden news of the resignation of Michele A. Brown, the acting first assistant U.S. Attorney for New Jersey:

“Michele Brown’s resignation today does nothing to put to rest questions about Christie’s conduct both in and outside of the U.S. Attorney’s office. Whether it was illegally laying the groundwork for his gubernatorial campaign from the U.S. Attorney’s office with the help of Karl Rove, maintaining a secret financial relationship with the number two at the U.S. Attorney’s office during his campaign, or rewarding political cronies with millions of dollars in no-bid contracts, Christie still must answer to serious legal and ethical questions. He can start by demanding the immediate release of public documents from his tenure as U.S. Attorney as requested by the Corzine campaign.”

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Filed under Chris Christie, Gov. Jon Corzine, Michele A. Brown, New Jersey, resignation, US Attorneys Office

Public Perception

There is a thin vale that separates reality from perception, very often ones own perception of events supersedes the reality of what actually has taken place. The Corzine campaign knows this and is using it to there advantage over Republican opponent Chris Christie.

The recent news about Christie speaking to Karl Rove about a potential run for the New Jersey governorship on top of the failure to disclose the loan of $46,000 to his assitant federal prosecutor, Michele Brown, while heading the US Attorneys office has left Christie open to attacks rightfully on his character and motivations.

The follwing opinion from piece from the Burlington County Times lays out Christie’s problem exactly:

Burlington County Times

Throughout his campaign for New Jersey governor, Republican candidate Chris Christie has represented himself as an ethics reformer who will “stop corruption in its tracks.”

Now that he has been forced to address questions about a $46,000 loan he made to an assistant when he was U.S. attorney, and that he failed to report it on his income tax and financial disclosure forms, he may want to change his approach.

Christie has said that it was all a mistake and that he plans to file all the amended paperwork.

OK, we’re willing to believe that.

But what really bothers us is the admission that Christie spoke with Karl Rove, adviser to former President George W. Bush, during his time as U.S. attorney. Rove has said that they discussed Christie’s interest in running for the state’s highest office. That means that Christie may have been actively pursuing the governorship while serving as a federal prosecutor. And that’s a violation of the Hatch Act, a law that restricts employees of the executive branch of the federal government, as well as state and federal employees, from any political activity.

Rove was well-known for blurring the lines between politics and the Justice Department and allegedly rated U.S. attorneys based on their loyalty. It also has been reported that he threatened to fire prosecutors who refused to pursue certain politically motivated cases.

In the middle of the 2006 election, Christie subpoenaed U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. The investigation never led to any charges. Democrats claimed at the time that the probe was politically motivated and now cite Christie’s conversation with Rove as proof.

Christie’s record of winning convictions against a large number of corrupt public officials struck a chord with Garden State voters sick and tired of political corruption in the state.

Now, the fact that the majority of those officials prosecuted by Christie during his tenure were Democrats seems less of a coincidence, and it’s easier to believe the link between Christie and former President Bush being made by Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s campaign.

If voters believe they’ll have to second-guess any and all of Christie’s work as a federal prosecutor, as well as the motivation behind it, what may have been a benign conversation could end up costing him the election.

It would not be the first time a candidate has been done in by public perception.

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Filed under Burlington County Times, Chris Christie, ethical violations, Gov. Jon Corzine, Hatch Act, Karl Rove, Michele A. Brown, US Attorneys Office

The Newark Star Ledger Sunday Editorial: Questions For Chris Christie

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.

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Filed under Chris Christie, George Bush, Gov. Jon Corzine, Karl Rove, Michele A. Brown, New Jersey, NJ-Gov. Race, the Star-Ledger, 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