By Louis Manzo
Governor Chris Christie gave the appearance of a cat who swallowed a canary as he chastised and taunted members of the legislative committee investigating him last Thursday [September 18, 2014]. “They’ve been irresponsible,” Christie charged. “These are people who are addicted to MSNBC and the front pages of your newspapers,” he further declared to a gallery full of media.
The Governor’s remarks mysteriously coincided with the song of another canary, this one chirping inside the offices of federal prosecutors in New Jersey, which later in the day let the cat out of the bag regarding information about the United States Attorney’s Office’s [USAO] supposedly surreptitious investigation of Bridgegate and other matters. The news that Christie would not be charged in the probe might be considered a sort of in-kind contribution to the Governor’s stealth presidential campaign from prosecutors in his former office.
Based on my experience with the New Jersey U.S. attorney’s office, it was totally predictable that it would bag the case out of institutional loyalty and self-seeking career incentives. I outlined the general process in my book “Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie.”
Now let’s examine how his ruthless methods, greed and other misconduct as New Jersey’s U.S. attorney during the GOP years from 2001 to 2008 found a parallel in the actions of his Democratic successor, Paul Fishman.The Chief Judge for a United States Circuit Court cited some of these same types of prosecutorial misconduct in a recent opinion, depicting them as an “epidemic” in prosecutor’s offices throughout the country.
This federal prosecutor’s office has a rich history of leaks if not “floods.” Just ask Senator Robert Menendez. During the Christie era as U.S. attorney, he endured a series of purposeful leaks involving a trumped-up federal investigation and smear floated to the press 60 days before his re-election vote. The leaks were designed to drown Menendez’s election chances by those charged with the authority of dispensing justice impartially.
The latest leak, reported on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams [September 18, 2014], declared that Christie would not be personally implicated in the Bridgegate matters. Challenged by other media organizations the following day, the USAO issued another statement in the typically cryptic Rubik’s Cube language that prosecutors speak in. The translation was a more discreet way of saying the same thing Brian Williams had reported on—Christie is off the hook, but we are still investigating.
This same USAO gutted the NJ legislative committees’ investigation of their former alumni in order to handle the matter themselves. At the time, the committee was considering whether to offer immunity to key witnesses in order to get to the truth at the heart of the matter—what the Governor knew. Millions of taxpayer dollars could have been saved if immunity had been given to Mr. (David) Wildstein, Mrs. (Bridget) Kelly, and others. Until that happens, we will never know the true involvement, if any, of the Governor. Prosecuting others, while leaving the question about Christie’s involvement to linger in doubt, would be another travesty of justice.
Apparently, as evidenced by the USAO’s latest leak, Christie still holds sway with the office he once headed, perhaps with the seemingly compromised head of the Special Prosecutions Division, James Nobile.
Concurrent with Christie’s upset election win over former Governor Jon Corzine, Nobile was the head of the prosecutor’s public corruption unit who, along with Acting United States Attorney Ralph Marra and First Assistant Prosecutor Michele Brown [both hired by Governor Christie’s administration], had proceeded to overlook conflicts of interest and potentially criminal conduct of Christie allies prosecuting the Bid Rig III sting while still working in the USAO.
The trio ignored DOJ guidelines requiring them to report such conduct. [The conflicts and conduct are itemized and detailed in Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and fall of Chris Christie.] This episode resulted in the most famous leak from the same USAO—three whistleblowers coming forward to accuse their fellow prosecutors of breaking the law by using the Bid Rig III arrests to help boost Christie’s election campaign.
The Bid Rig III sting was credited by many as the catalyst for Christie’s election victory. Numerous compromised prosecutors, some of whom donated money to Christie’s campaign, successfully negotiated jobs in Christie’s Trenton administration while they investigated and prosecuted the sting that both they and Christie had a stake in. The current United States Attorney made excuses and covered for the staff as well, even as evidence of their conduct was exposed and the beeline for jobs in Trenton continued.
I had predicted that nothing would become of any federal investigation of Christie in Bridgegate or other matters. Many seem stunned by the revelation reported by NBC news. In Ruthless Ambition, I cite ample evidence of the fraternity to which former and current federal prosecutors belong—they do not eat their own. Their closed society gave birth to an Office of Professional Responsibility [OPR], an oxymoronically named unit that repeatedly whitewashes the misconduct of federal prosecutors and continually fends off the Office of Inspector General from scrutinizing charges of abuse against prosecutors who view themselves as above the law.
No, there will not be any consequence for Christie resulting from the Bridgegate scandal. A clue of this outcome became apparent months ago, when Governor Christie and his minions urged the legislative investigative committee to suspend their inquiry in lieu of the one being conducted by that of Christie’s former office.
The late U.S. Senator from NJ, Frank Lautenberg, once accused individuals of this same USAO of aiding and abetting Christie by “trying to bring political campaign objectives into the planning of law enforcement actions” and “conducting a political campaign within the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Lautenberg’s words will continue to haunt the conscience of anyone in power with the influence to sever this cancer from an office intended to dispense justice blindly, but who, instead, have thus far decided to ignore their responsibility to take action.
Expect the scapegoats and the low-hanging fruit that Governor Christie served up to the media and prosecutors to suffer the consequences for creating the world’s most famous traffic jam—the event that seemingly everyone of importance in Christie’s office, with the exception of Christie, knew about. In light of how Christie did-in his former Education Commissioner, Brett Shundler, his not having a hand in Bridgegate would seem incredible.
Expect a press that thrives on leaks from federal prosecutors to assist their daily coverage of other news matters [also a federal crime] to give the USAO a pass. The days of true-to-form investigative journalists and the likes of Edward R. Morrow are long gone, replaced by spokespersons and USAO public affairs units that churn out a story a day for some willing members of the press to echo.
Expect the skeptics of the USAO conclusions to be labeled with an old CIA lexicon that was specifically spoon fed to the press for handling the critics of government and those who expose such inconvenient truths—“conspiracy theorists.”
For those willing to drink the Kool-Aid served up by prosecutors and dispensed by others in the press corps, P.T. Barnum had a more appropriate term—“suckers.”
Meanwhile, this cancer in the bowels of our justice system continues to spread.