Taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity to damage Republican challenger Chris Christie‘s gubernatorial campaign, both Gov. Jon Corzine and state Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) Wednesday jumped at the opportunity to link politics to the candidate's role as New Jersey U.S. attorney and link him to controversial Bush administration advisor Karl Rove.
Christie found himself on the defensive after newly-released testimony that Rove gave to a congressional committee last month revealed that he talked to Christie about running for governor at least twice last year while he was in the non-political post of New Jersey U.S. attorney.
Christie’s campaign has played down the incident, calling it an informal conversation.
Wednesday, the campaign pointed out that as a U.S. senator, Corzine endorsed Christie’s appointment and often praised him as he gained the convictions of 130 New Jersey public officials.
“I’m under the impression that U.S. attorneys are supposed to be free of politics,’’ Crozine said in Newark. “If politics comes into play, then the whole basis of justice is called into question. Are the actions taken dependent on the fair administration of justice, or wer e there political issues? People have to have faith that the judgements that are taken by our courts, by our prosecutorial system, are such that everyone is treated equally under the law.’’
According to the congressional transcripts, during their conversations, Rowe said Christie asked “who were good people that knew about running for governor that he could talk to.‘’
The Christie campaign released a statement Corzine made on during a 2005 gubernatorial debate in which the then-Democratic candidate said, “There have been as many Republicans as there are Democrats that have been brought to justice by Chris Christie and I think that he doing a great job.’’
Sen. Codey said the Christie controversy highlights a need to pass a bill he recently introduced that would bar the state’s top investigators from running for political office for two years after leaving their post. Codey’s proposal would not affect a New Jersey U.S. attorney.
Codey said in light of the admissions by Rove, Christie was clearly contemplating a run for office while holding the post of U.S. attorney.
“The recently released testimony from Karl Rove underscores the need to pass this bill,’’ he said. “The public has a right to know whether their top law enforcement investigators are acting in good faith. Given the pow er that prosecutors hold, it should be clear whether they are motivated by the sole desire to uphold the law or by future political aspirations.
“The rumors were circulating for ages that Chris Christie would run for office and he formally started to explore a run just a few months after leaving the U.S. attorney’s office,” the senator added. “The testimony of Karl Rove only adds fuel to the fire that Christie was planning a run for governor while he was U.S. attorney. If anybody in New Jersey thinks Chris Christie only had this conversation with Karl Rove, and Karl Rove alone, then they probably think they’ll be shopping at Xanadu by Christmastime too. Unfortunately, because it’s a federal post, we may not be able to apply these provisions to U.S. attorneys, but we can at least have confidence that our other top investigators are acting with pure motives.”
Introduced in May, bill S-2796 would bar the state attorney general, first assistant attorney general and county prosecutors from running for elected office in New Jersey for two years after leaving their position. The provision would not apply to current races already underway, but would go into effect 180 days after enactment.
“Let me be clear, if someone breaks the law, they should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law,’’ Codey said. “It is my belief that passing this bill will only strengthen the confidence in our legal system, by eliminating any doubt as to the motivations behind the prosecution and, in many respects, protect the prosecutors themselves from those types of accusations.
Codey said he will push for passage of the bill when the Legislature reconvenes in the Fall.