Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 7:10 am
TRENTON – U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg is calling for a federal investigation into allegations that Chris Christie, the Republican candidate for governor in New Jersey, used the office of U.S. attorney for political gain.
The call for a Justice Department investigation follows accusations that Christie politicized the office of the top federal prosecutor while serving there for seven years in the Bush administration. Lautenberg is asking the Justice Department to look into whether the U.S. attorney’s office aided Christie’s campaign after he resigned in December to run for governor.
Christie has been dogged for months by the allegations of inside politicking, which would violate Department of Justice policy and federal law.
The allegations against Christie reached a higher pitch Monday when The New York Times reported that a top aide in the prosecutor’s office, Michele Brown, may have tried to steer the timing of a large corruption bust to benefit Christie’s campaign and that she interceded to block potentially damaging travel records from being released.
“It is shocking to learn that a former deputy to Chris Christie was conducting a political campaign within the U.S. attorney’s Office,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “It was particularly distressing that this raw political agenda came into an office with a historic reputation for fair and unbiased dispensation of justice, and Ms. Brown went so far as to try to bring political campaign objectives into the planning of law enforcement actions.”
Christie denied the charges.
“There are a lot of presumptions being made that don’t have the facts to back them up,” Christie said Monday.
“The question was did she give any aid to my campaign, and the answer is ‘no.’ As to the specific questions that were raised in the entire story, I’ll take Michele’s word for it, it looks like she said in the story that the allegations were ‘outrageous’ and ‘inaccurate.”‘
Brown declined to comment when reached Tuesday.
Christie mounted a strong challenge to incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine, but has seen his lead evaporate as Democrats have hounded him on a signature issue – government ethics. Polls now show the race deadlocked with two weeks to go.
Corzine, like Lautenberg, said it appears that there were efforts within the U.S. Attorney’s office, even after Christie left, to advance his political career.
“If I were unkind, I would say it was a branch office of the campaign,” Corzine said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Corzine said there were earlier examples, too: He said issuing a subpoena to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez two months before his 2006 election was a political act.
Christie earlier acknowledged having conversations with Bush strategist Karl Rove about a possible run for governor, which may have violated a law restricting political activity by federal employees.
Unnamed federal law enforcement officials told The Times that Brown, who had borrowed $46,000 from Christie to settle credit card debt in 2007, yielded her influence inside the U.S. attorney’s office to aid Christie’s election bid.
The sources said Brown was the lone voice within the prosecutor’s office arguing for more than 40 people targeted in a corruption and money-laundering case be arrested before July 1 so that Christie could reap the credit. The sources also said she took over a request by the Corzine campaign for public records from Christie’s tenure, including travel records for him and Brown.
The release of those records showed Christie and Brown stayed at some of the country’s most upscale hotels. The tab to taxpayers occasionally exceeded $400 per night.
Brown resigned in August after news of the loan – and her ongoing financial relationship with Christie – emerged. She took a job with a Mooristown law firm that had represented one of the medical manufacturing companies Christie had investigated for medical fraud.
On Tuesday, Christie said acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra decided when to bring cases, not Brown.
Marra declined to comment, as did U.S. Attorney’s office spokesman Michael Drewniak.