This morning, the New York Times took another shot at the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie, with a story headlined, “Christie May Have Gotten Improper Aid.”
Back in August, news broke that Christie had loaned his former aide, Michele Brown, $46,000 and had failed to disclose the loan. Just a friend helping a friend, Christie and his team insisted. Brown was still employed at the U.S. Attorney’s office at the time.
The Times quotes unnamed federal officials claiming that Brown helped out Christie twice – the first by overseeing the release of records related to Christie’s work as U.S. Attorney, and the second by pushing for the arrests of more than 40 targets of a corruption and money-laundering probe, allegedly to ensure that Christie would get credit for the bust.
The first allegation is disputed; Brown’s boss at the time, Ralph Marra, says she only supplied records related to her own work and travel. If she had a role in processing the FOIA request, that seems like bad judgment on Brown’s part, as you probably shouldn’t be handling the release of records relating to the guy who loaned you a healthy chunk of cash. But as a scandal it’s pretty moot, since the records are out. On the second, even the Times notes that the timing of the bust ended up moot as well, since Christie’s successor took several more months to take his new position.
Even if the specifics are pretty shaky as far as scandals go, it still looks a little discomforting for a U.S. Attorney’s office employee to owe money to a candidate for governor.
The Christie campaign held a conference call today, and the staffers involved wanted to put the spotlight on Gov. Jon Corzine’s refusal to release the tax records for his charitable foundation. In the past, the ultra-wealthy Corzine has thrown around money like Pacman Jones in a strip club to various New Jersey figures and organizations, many of whom turned around and endorsed him, but with everyone insisting there was no quid pro quo.
But a lot of reporters had questions about the Times story.
The Christie campaign’s pushback relied heavily on the lack of named sources, and pointed to the Times omitting what they saw as relevant facts. For example, the last sentence of the story is, “A die-hard Mets fan, Mr. Christie put in for $73 in mileage costs for a drive to Philadelphia on a night his schedule noted an away game against the Phillies.”
Christie campaign consultant Mike DuHaime said that the trip was for the annual outing of the Camden branch office of the U.S. Attorney’s office; each year they went to a Philadelphia Phillies game. He said the initial version of the Times story, posted online, mentioned a trip Christie took to London without mentioning the reason for the trip, which was to speak at a meeting of compliance officers for a company he had investigated.
“It was a story by unnamed sources, two weeks out from Election Day, making allegations that are untrue,” DuHaime said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of credibility to something like that, and it’s not something I would expect from the Times. There’s not one on-the-record source . . . I’m not overly concerned about a story on inter-office issues with no sources on the record.”
Another Christie campaign aide, Maria Comella, added, “The nature of this story is that it is based on unnamed sources, making broad sweeping accusations at the end of the day are just that – allegations. This is a story that we’re not going to get into the tick-tock about. [Christie] has been very clear about his record about how he handles his duties at the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
As far as New Jersey scandals go, the allegations in the Times story – and without on-the-record sources, they remain allegations – are pretty small stuff, but little wrongdoings may be more damaging to a guy who is running on his record as a corruption-fighter. On the other hand, Christie’s campaign emphasized that they saw this story as a last-minute attempt to distract voters from the issue cutting against Corzine – the miserable condition of the Garden State’s economy.