Monday, February 22, 2016

Christie's Friday Night Slight (Of Hand)

President Richard M. Nixon
Anyone familiar with media, business, politics or the law knows that the release of information to the public that's negative or potentially harmful to a business, institution, organization or individual, is a precarious matter.

To reduce the risk, you release it on a Friday or Saturday night at the low end of the weekly news cycle to minimize the damage or fallout.

It doesn't always work.

One of the best historical examples from the political realm is the infamous Saturday Night Massacre that took place on Saturday October 20, 1973.

At the height of the Watergate Investigations, the independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox took the unprecedented step of issuing a subpoena to then-President Richard Nixon requesting copies of conversations from the Oval Office of the White House that had been secretly taped (and ordered) by Nixon; between February 1971 and July 1973, Nixon recorded at least 3,700 hours of Oval Office conversations and phone calls which came to be known popularly as "The Nixon Tapes."

Archibald Cox (left) & Elliot Richardson (right)
On Friday October 19, 1973, Nixon suggested that the notoriously hard-of-hearing 72-year-old Democratic Senator from Mississippi named John C. Stennis instead listen to the tapes and summarize them for Cox.

Cox refused this absurd suggestion, and on Saturday October 20th an enraged Nixon ordered then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox, Richardson refused and resigned in protest.

Nixon then ordered  Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, he too refused and resigned in protest.

That night Nixon summoned the Solicitor General of the United States Robert Bork (an eventual Supreme Court nominee) to the White House and Bork finally fired Cox - shaking the foundations of American Democracy and politics, enraging the American public and bringing about Nixon's eventual resignation.

Now in no way am I comparing the Bridgegate scandal that haunted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie like a clingy ghost throughout his 2016 presidential run.

But as Jonathan D. Salant reported for at 10:35pm last Friday night, the state attorney general's office released  the latest invoices showing that New Jersey taxpayers are now responsible for an astounding $10 million in legal fees related to the Bridgegate scandal.

About the only thing quieter than Christie's unceremonious withdrawal from the 2016 GOP presidential race after his sixth place finish in the recent New Hampshire primary, was the release of those bills form Stroz Friedburg, a forensics firm that specializes in data analysis and investigations.
Thus far Stroz Friedburg has billed NJ taxpayers $2.3 million for work related to collecting the volumes of official emails from the governor's office and organizing them for the investigation.

That $2.3 million comes on top of the $8 million billed to Garden State taxpayers from law firm Gibson, Dunn & Cratcher, the firm Christie hired to defend himself against the charges related to Bridgegate.

Debra Wong Yang
As reports, Gibson, Dunn & Cratcher is the same firm that issued a "report" that conveniently exonerated Christie of any wrongdoing in the scandal and instead scapegoated Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly.

The report was authored by firm partner Randy Mastro a close associate of Christie - federal judge ripped the law firm for failing to keep notes of conversations and interviews of witnesses.

Sketchy? It gets better.

As reporter Matt Katz reported for WNYC back in December, Christie's personal friend Debra Wong Yang, who (luckily for Christie) leads the crisis management practice group for Gibson, Dunn & Cratcher and is  one of the lawyers who interviewed Christie for the Bridgegate investigation.

In a remarkable example of blatant conflict of interest, she also hosted a $2,700 a-plate fundraiser for Christie in Los Angeles, and is one of the 28 different Gibson, Dunn & Cratcher lawyers who've made donations to Christie's 2016 presidential campaign.

Small wonder the acting NJ Attorney General John Jay Hoffman's office reported that "more than a dozen of the firm's attorney's work at a 'blended rate' of $350 an hour."

Christie's relationship with acting at Hoffman (who's been the state's "acting" AG since 2013 only because Christie decided not to subject him to the Senate approval process...) is fraught with a disturbing variety of fundamental conflict of interest issues.
NJ Attorney General John Jay Hoffman
Not simply because of their personal relationship, but because of the politically incestuous proximity of their professional offices and the fact that New Jersey is one of only five states in America where the governor appoints the attorney general to office.

Yup. That''s right, the governor personally appoints the state's top official responsible for law enforcement.

Ripe for abuse?

Like a fat juicy grape on a Napa Valley vine during harvest season.

As reporter Bob Jordan observed in an article for The Courier Post in May 2015, the governor's appointment of the AG in New Jersey is one of those untidy little open secrets in the Garden State that people have been griping about for years.

It not only undermines the independence of the AG's office, it calls into the question the fundamental checks and balances of power a Democratically elected state government should have as a foundation.

It is of interest to note fifteen days before the release of the $2.3 million bill to NJ taxpayers from Stroz Frieburg last Friday, John Jay Hoffman, who's been notoriously reluctant to pursue any investigations of Christie's office (go figure!) announced that he will be resigning his office in March to take a position with Rutgers University with an annual salary of $395,000.

Hoffman made his announcement on February 4th, exactly one day before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton began hearing oral arguments from lawyers for former Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey related to their pending trial for charges related to the Bridgeate scandal.

It's not Watergate, but it's a "Gate" with a capital G.

No comments: