Washington Post columnist David Broder last week cited New Jersey's freshman Gov. Chris Christie as a role model for Pennsylvania's Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett, who similarly boasts of a platform to limit government and fight crime.
But Broder got the Christie story completely backward in his Sept. 2 column. The columnist described Corbett, Pennsylvania's attorney general and also a former U.S. attorney there, this way:
His claim to fame is that his investigations of corrupt legislators have so far sent several of them to jail. In this race, he has modeled himself on Chris Christie, the freshman governor of New Jersey, promising, as Christie did, to oppose new taxes and shrink state government.
Gov. Chris Christie by State of New Jersey
Far from limiting government, Christie wasted vast amounts of taxpayer funds to help himself and his cronies. Look no farther than his scheme as U.S. attorney to connive with Solomon Dwek, a big-time bank swindler and brothel operator, to crush political opponents with criminal charges timed to explode at the beginning of the 2009 Christie campaign.
The Christie-and-Dwek tale recounted below illustrates why we need more investigative reporting in politics as this year's election season heats up. Pundits seldom deign to discuss obvious dirty tricks, much less the deviltry from unwarranted criminal charges against political targets to destroy them and their families as part of an election strategy.
This is a huge nationwide problem, as indicated by the Bush White House's notorious purge of eight of the nation's 93 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys for political reasons after the 2006 elections. The unprecedented mid-term firings were preceded by DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson's email to Karl Rove advocating "loyal Bushies" in those jobs.
Nora Dannehy by New Haven Independent
Both the Bush and Obama DOJ then proceeded to keep business-as-usual by whitewashing their internal investigation of DOJ. First, Bush's DOJ appointed Nora Dannehy, a secretly compromised prosecutor, to lead the nationwide probe, as the Justice Integrity Project reported earlier this summer.Then Bush's DOJ limited Dannehy's investigation to essentially one of the fired prosecutors.
DOJ could thus claim an internal investigation while ignoring all the other prosecutors fired or the conduct of those remaining, plus the impact on whatever innocent victims were created during the nationwide scandal. The Obama-Holder DOJ has gone along every step of the way in maintaining this cover-up. Why? That remains to be seen in detail. But we already know from previous DOJ scandals its strong tradition of internal loyalty, its vast powers to help an administration by destroying opponents in political prosecutions and the extroardinary opportunity for career enhancement for those most loyal and adept in sensitive tasks.
The nasty after-effects of the scandal continue to shape our nation's politics. In fact, there's no way to assess this year's elections without understanding the root causes of how we've created an anything-to-win culture of scheming and lying by prosecutor-turned-politicians, with political pundits glossing over it either by choice or by cluelessness .
Let's start by examining how Christie himself responded to the threat posed by the 2006 White House-orchestrated purge of those deemed insufficiently political in using their powers controlling the central government's criminal and civil litigation in their regions.
During 2006, Christie was placed on a preliminary list of those slated for firing for insufficient political loyalty, according to subsequent testimony. His actions after that included:
- Pre-election subpoenas tarnishing New Jersey's Democratic Senate candidate Robert Menendez 61 days prior to election. The subpoenas never resulted in charges but prompted many headlines suggesting corruption by Menendez before he narrowly won reelection. Christie, not surprisingly, survived the political purge just after the election that cost eight of his peers nationally their jobs and sent a powerful message to all remaining prosecutors.
- No-bid contracts for tens of millions of dollars to prominent Republican former Justice Department officials to monitor settlement agreements with corporate criminal defendants. One contract valued at $28 million to $52 million went to former Republican U.S. Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft, Christie's former boss, to monitor a kick-back scheme by Zimmer Holdings to induce surgeons to use its medical devices. A similar no-bid deal went to former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Herbert Stern, Christie's mentor.
Far from "limiting government" in any normal sense, these were sweetheart deals for everyone except the taxpayers. The public incurred the necessary of costs of investigating and documenting criminal activity. But corporate payments to make amends went to the coffers of party insiders instead of going to the government or victims.
There's an additional way Christie's contracts for cronies scheme looted taxpayers, albeit in gray areas presumptively legal: The former U.S. attorney Stern, other principals in his firm and their relatives benefitting from the no-bid contractcontributed of $24,000 to the Christie gubernatorial campaign, according to an in-depth report by Factcheck.org, a project of the non-partisan Annenberg Public Policy Center. Taxpayers funds were then drawn down to triple thedonation to $72,000 because of the state's requirement to match private donations, investigators reported.Thiswas all carefully done, no doubt, to fall within the law,, but doesnot appear to be that far in spirit from what Dwek was suggesting in a more ham-handed way.