Chris Christie has burst onto the national scene in recent years. Despite having many critics and detractors he has become something of a darling of the mainstream media, and is viewed by many as a potential successful Republican candidate for the presidency.
The George Washington Bridge scandal has cast a dark cloud over the Governor, one that has the potential for ending his presidential ambitions, and perhaps even his governorship and his political career. It has also given us a glimpse of behavior we have not seen Chris Christie display in public in the past. While claiming ignorance of the scandal as it was hatched, developed, and eventually began to unravel, Christie has taken responsibility, expressed outrage, fired staffers he claims lied to him and betrayed him, and displayed un-characteristic humility and remorse. He has strived mightily to assure us that this is not how business should be conducted on his watch. Whether he has been truthful about his pre-knowledge and/or involvement (and we still do not know why those Fort Lee access lanes to the GW Bridge were ordered closed by members of his staff, inflicting much inconvenience on the public and not inconsiderable public endangerment), a close look at Chris Christie's career reveals a pattern of entitlement, bullying, vindictiveness, and a disturbing lack of respect for ethics and the rule of law. The Bridge scandal is wholly consistent with Christie's past behavior, and renders his denials less than credible. Only his defensive posture seems to have changed, and perhaps that should be seen as a sign that he fears his past ability to deflect criticism out of sheer bluster and arrogance may finally be wearing thin.
The GW Bridge Scandal and Governor Christie's potential culpability should not be evaluated in a vacuum. History matters. What follows represents a modest attempt to document the underside of Chris Christie's public career. It is not intended to be the definitive accounting of Christie's pattern for bad or questionable behavior, merely an attempt to document a disturbing pattern of conduct that has so far been largely ignored by the majority of the mainstream media.
In what may have set the stage for his future career, Christie was accused, while an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware in the mid-80's, of cronyism, bullying, and creating a self-sustaining student government political machine. After being voted president of the Delaware Undergraduate Student Congress in 1983, Chris Christie, aided by his younger brother Todd (about whom you'll read more later), was accused of using "undemocratic tactics" to appoint friends, including his brother, to committee chairmanships in order to control the student government, including being succeeded in the presidency by Student Congress Secretary, Mary Pat Foster, the future Mary Pat Christie. One Fellow member of the Student Congress at the time wrote: "Cronyism" has caused frustration and disgust of many hard working members, and led to the resignation of five voting members by mid-year." "When a member perseveres in his or her student government work, and then witnesses the appointment of the president's friends or even his brother to committee chairmanships one begins to wonder about the legitimacy of DUSC." "Something is lacking in our student government. It is known as representative democracy. Mr. Christie and his executives were able to appoint a surrogate as Nominations Chair, and this chairman then had the power to appoint committee chairmen." "Therefore, Chris Christie's deputies, chairmen and fellow Campus Action officeholders, could constitute a majority of the voting members of DUSC. That is not democracy." (based on original reporting by TPM: "What Christie Did To Get A Reputation As A Political Bully Even In College." Read their report here).
THE EARLY DAYS:
Christie practiced law from 1987 to 1994, rising to partner in the Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci law firm in 1993. In 1994 he entered politics, winning election to the Board of Chosen Freeholders for Morris County, New Jersey as a Republican. His defeated opponents sued him for falsely claiming during the campaign that they were under investigation for violating certain local laws, a suit Christie settled out of court after apologizing for the error. After losing an election bid to join the New Jersey General Assembly in 1995 Christie returned to Dughi, Hewitt & Palatucci, this time as a lobbyist working with Bill Palatucci in the Trenton office, lobbying, among other things for energy de-regulation, blocking expansion of securities fraud law, and for a higher education license for University of Phoenix, a controversial institution of higher learning with excessive tuition costs coupled with only a 17% over-all graduation rate and a reported graduation rate of only 5% for its online program. (Pallatucci went on to become a member of Governor Christie's inner circle as a trusted confidant, and is expected to be a key member in any future Christie political campaign team). During the 2000 election Christie set the stage for his future successes by becoming a "Pioneer" bundler for the George W. Bush presidential campaign, raising more than $100,000 for the future president. He also served as corporate counsel for the Bush campaign. His eventual reward was his appointment to the post of U.S. Attorney for New Jersey after Bill Palatucci passed his resumé on to Karl Rove. Apparently Christie's service to Bush during the presidential campaign was not quite enough, at least not at first. Christie had never been employed in law enforcement, nor practiced criminal law. His nomination to the position of U.S. Attorney would be certain to be controversial. Bush made it clear after the election that Christie would not be named to any top Federal posts, but that was before the money began to flow. Chris and Mary Pat Christie (never particularly generous political contributors in the past) donated $20,000 to the GOP. Brother Todd Christie and his wife each donated $37,000. In late 2001 Christie was nominated for the post of U.S. Attorney and took office in January 2002. In March of 2002 Todd Christie donated $225,000 to the national GOP followed by other smaller amounts which ultimately brought 2001-2002 contributions to the GOP by the two brothers and their families to more than $500,000.
CHRISTIE ESCAPES THE U.S. ATTORNEY PURGE LIST:
At one point it appeared that Christie's new career might be cut short. In a scandal that would embroil President Bush and his Attorney General Alberto Gonzales it became known that 26 U.S. Attorneys deemed insufficiently loyal to the President or in insufficient compliance with his agenda were being systematically purged from office in 2005 and 2006. A new list containing four additional targets of the purge was subsequently leaked, and Chris Christie's name was on it. Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez was engaged in a tight race for re-election against Republican challenger Tom Kean. With less than two months to go before the election word leaked on September 8th that Menendez was being investigated by Chris Christie's office for conflicts of interest and ethics violations. Menendez charged that it was a politically motivated smear, and the fact that no further details emerged and no indictments resulted lent some credibility to the claim. Menendez was comfortably re-elected. Christie's name was also removed from the list of U.S. Attorneys to be purged. In fairness, no evidence exists to prove that the two events were related, but it is certainly appropriate to speculate about it. Christie certainly made no attempt to downplay the Menendez rumors during the campaign, and that fact alone made him complicit in an attempt to use the power of the U.S. Attorney's office in an effort to affect the outcome of the election. It is also an established fact that Christie's name was on the purge list, and then it wasn't.
A U.S. ATTORNEY WITH A PENCHANT FOR NO-BID CONTRACTS:
Deferred prosecution agreements have become increasingly popular with government agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and with U.S. attorneys as an alternative to expensive, time-consuming, and potentially risky courtroom litigation and trials. It involves an arrangement in which a prosecutor agrees to forego a trial, and the defendant agrees to fulfill certain requirements in return. The New York Times made its opposition to such agreements clear in a December 2013 editorial: "The use of deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements allows companies [and individuals] to avoid criminal charges if they pay substantial penalties, improve their compliance programs and cooperate with authorities. The companies do not plead guilty. They are not convicted of any crimes. They do not receive criminal sentences."
As a U.S. Attorney Chris Christie was very fond of deferred prosecution agreements, and apparently even fonder of the opportunities they provided him when it came to doling out well-compensated no-bid contracts to monitors who over saw them. He negotiated seven such agreements while in office and awarded seven no-bid contracts to oversee their execution.
Among the most controversial agreements entered into by Christie involved a $311 million settlement with Zimmer Holdings of Indiana involving kickbacks of manufacturers of knee replacements. Among Christie's five handpicked monitors appointed to oversee the agreement was former U.S. Attorney General, and former Christie boss, John Ashcroft, whose Washington, D.C.-based law/lobbying firm stood to make over $52 million, one of the largest such contracts ever awarded a federal monitor. Zimmer Holdings objected to the Ashcroft Group's high fees which included a $750,000 per month charge designated specifically for John Ashcroft and two other executives. Christie refused to intervene. The Ashcroft no-bid contract did not go unnoticed in Washington, and Christie was called upon to explain to Congressman John Conyers to explain why "there was neither public notice of the contract nor any public bidding for the assignment." Instead of providing answers Christie simply walked out of the hearing .
Christie also came to terms with Biomet Orthopedics, which also manufactured medical devices. That monitor contract, worth a reported $10-12 million, went to David Kelly, a former Manhattan U.S. Attorney. What made his selection notable was Kelly's role in prosecuting a stock fraud case involving Chris Christie's younger brother, Todd Christie. Todd was a Wall Street trader who came under the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly engaging in over 1600 improper trades from 1999-2003. Todd Christie, was one of 15 traders accused by the SEC of defrauding investigators of roughly $19 million. Eleven of the fifteen traders were eventually indicted by U.S. Attorney David Kelly. Todd Christie was one of four who were not even though he was thought to be one of the most culpable of the accused traders, having personally made more than $1.4 million on the trades. Instead Todd settled civil charges in which he acknowledged making "hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically undercharged." One of the traders who was indicted profited to the tune of only $14,000. Todd Christie's settlement involved no fine and no admission of wrongdoing. Chris Christie would later insist that "my bother committed no wrongdoing," offering as evidence that neither Kelly nor the SEC had indicted him.
Christie mentor Herbert Stern received a $10 million no-bid monitor contract to oversee a settlement with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey for alleged double-billing for Medicare services covered by Medicare.