BY TOM HESTER SR.
KochWatch.org, a Washington-based website that tracks the actions of billionaire conservative Republican powerbrokers David and Charles Koch, has asked Gov. Chris Christie’s office for all records related to his secret trip to Vail, Colorado on June 26 to give the main address at a political gathering hosted by the brothers.
Christie left New Jersey for the Sunday appearance without telling the public or news media, something he has done at least three other times for political matters since taking office 20 months ago.
Kevin Zeese, a KochWatch attorney, told NewJerseyNewsroom.com of the records request Thursday. He said KochWatch.org also wants to see the state Attorney General‘s office and the Legislature conduct what he described as an ethics investigation into Christie’s habit of disappearing without only a handful of aides and the State Police knowing his whereabouts.
“Yesterday, we filed a records request with the governor's office for all documents related to his secret trip to the Koch brothers' retreat,” Zeese said. “And we asked that the request be expedited. Once we get that, we will know which direction to go as to an ethics complaint or criminal investigation.”
Zeese added, “We have also asked for the Legislature to conduct its own investigation and hold hearings. Clearly, Governor Christie did not want anyone to know about the trip or his keynote address. The question now is did that violate any laws or rules, did he use state resources for the trip, and was there any quid pro quo involved.”
Michael Drewniak, Christie’s press secretary, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter of the governor leaving the state without public notice or KochWatch.org’s request for the Vail trip records. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno was acting governor while Christie was in Colorado. Her office referred questions about the secrecy of the trip to the governor’s office.
Asked if the state Ethics Commission would handle a complaint about a governor’s secrecy, Director Peter Tober said, “…I am not sure that the Conflicts Law has an applicable section which would require the governor to notify the public if he left the state. Other sections of law might impose such a requirement—or they might not—but those sections of the law are probably outside the jurisdiction of this commission. I note further that the constitutional delegation of powers to the newly created lieutenant governor may govern the answer to (the) question, but again that is outside the scope of the SEC’s jurisdiction.”
Christie’s trip was exposed by Mother Jones magazine.
The governor was part of the audience along with Republican governors Rick Perry of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida and Bob McDonnell of Virginia when Charles Koch described President Obama as “Saddam Hussein.”
“It appears highly unusual for the chief executive of New Jersey to secretly leave the state in order to appear at a clearly partisan event, and then to mislead his constituents by keeping it off his daily calendar,” Zeese said. “Governor Christie used the event to bash New Jersey legislators who bargained with him in good faith (on the public employees‘ benefits bill), and public employees who work hard every day to make sure that the New Jersey government is functioning."
David Koch introduced Christie as “my kind of guy” and disclosed that he had met privately with him for two hours at the Koch New York offices in January.
In May, Christie traveled to New York’s Hudson River Valley to meet with Roger Ailes, the head of Fox Broadcasting and Rush Limbaugh where a 2012 Republican presidential bid by the governor was a topic. When the American Civil Liberties Union and Gawker.com requested the Christie‘s office to provide the records related to the trip, his aides claimed executive privilege and denied the request.
The Koch and Ailes trips were not revealed to the public or news media.
When Christie repeatedly left New Jersey last autumn to campaign for Republican gubernatorial and congressional candidates in a string of states, the state Republican headquarters would announce he was leaving.