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a.k.a. Chris Christie
Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican lawyer with no experience as a prosecutor or in criminal law, is confirmed as US Attorney for New Jersey. Christie was a controversial choice. A source for the New York Times told a reporter in August that “[e]verybody in the game wants Christie,” referring to the New Jersey Republican Party, “and everybody not in the game is looking for a rational alternative.” Christie was also favored by the Bush administration. Republican operative and fundraiser William Palatucci will later boast that he was able to use his influence with White House political chief Karl Rove to push Christie ahead of others in the nomination process, a claim Rove will later deny. Christie was once a lobbyist for Palatucci’s law firm Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci. State Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos (R-NJ) said of Christie: “There’s a lot of good feeling for Chris at the White House. He’s worked very hard for the president and has been recommended by virtually all the key leaders from state government and political circles.” Former US Attorney for New Jersey Robert J. Del Tufo, a Democrat, said of the nomination: “The best of all possible worlds would be if the decision were made on nonpolitical grounds. Maybe I’m living on Mars, but I think it’s so important to the public to have the perception that people are being chosen on the basis of merit.” (Mansnerus 8/26/2001; Kirkpatrick and Rutenberg 3/29/2007; Rove 7/7/2009 ; Margolin, Heinin, and Heininger 8/26/2009; Zoller-Ciatto 5/23/2010)
Both the FBI and the US attorney’s office for New Jersey are highly critical of a raid by the Passaic County sheriff’s office on the business of Mohamed el-Atriss, who supplied the 9/11 hijackers with false IDs (see (July-August 2001) and July 31, 2002). El-Atriss is later arrested and will plead guilty to selling fake IDs (see November 2002-June 2003). According to the sheriff, when US attorney for New Jersey Christopher Christie learns the sheriff intends to hold a news conference about the raid, he tells the sheriff that “he [will] be arrested and the US attorney [will] come down and shut down the Sheriff’s Department.” However, a spokesman for Christie will deny this. (Schwanberg 10/20/2003) The FBI also hammers the sheriff in the media after the arrest, calling the raid, in which officers were accompanied by several press representatives, a “shameful media grab” and saying that the sheriff killed an FBI investigation. The Bergen County Record will point out that this is unusual, as “the feds don’t make a habit of lambasting other law enforcement officials publicly or of confirming the existence of secret investigations.” (Allee 8/7/2002) Federal officials then tell the sheriff’s department not to proceed with any investigations related to el-Atriss until they get clearance from the FBI. (Schwanberg 10/20/2003) El-Atriss cooperated with the FBI after 9/11 and promised to “keep his eyes and ears open” for other terrorists (see September 13, 2001-Mid 2002).
Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), sends a list of the 93 current US Attorneys to White House counsel Harriet Miers. Each US Attorney is listed in either plain type, boldface, or “strikeout,” meaning a line is drawn through their name. In a follow-up email on March 2, Sampson explains that, “putting aside expiring terms, the analysis on the chart I gave you is as follows:
Bold - “Recommend retaining; strong US Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.
Strikeout - “Recommend removing; weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors; chafed against administration initiatives, etc.
Nothing - “No recommendation; not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively.”
On the copy of the chart released to the House Judiciary Committee in 2009, most of the US Attorneys’ names are redacted. The ones who are not redacted are listed as follows:
Paul K. Charlton, Arizona (see November 14, 2001 and December 2003): nothing;
Bud Cummins, Eastern Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002): strikeout.
Debra W. Yang, Central California: boldface.
Kevin Ryan, Northern California (see August 2, 2002 and February 2003): nothing. (Ryan’s name is in a different font than the others, suggesting that it has been re-entered; it is difficult to tell from the copy of Sampson’s chart if his name is in boldface or not.)
Carol C. Lam, Southern California (see November 8, 2002 and February 7-11, 2005): strikeout.
Patrick Fitzgerald, Northern Illinois (see October 24, 2001): nothing.
Margaret M. Chiara, Western Michigan (see November 2, 2001 and July 12-16, 2004): strikeout.
Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Minnesota: strikeout.
Dunn O. Lampton, Southern Mississippi: strikeout.
Todd P. Graves, Missouri (see October 11, 2001 and March 2002): nothing.
Daniel G. Bogden, Nevada (see November 2, 2001 and February 2003): nothing.
Christopher J. Christie, New Jersey (see December 20, 2001): boldface.
David C. Iglesias, New Mexico (see October 18, 2001 and 2002): boldface.
Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Central North Carolina: strikeout.
Mary Beth Buchanan, Western Pennsylvania: boldface.
John McKay Jr., Western Washington (see October 24, 2001 and May 2002): strikeout.
Steven M. Biskupic, Wisconsin: strikeout.
Thomas A. Zonay, Vermont: boldface.
On March 2, Sampson sends an email to Miers indicating some revisions to the chart. Heffelfinger and Biskupic have their statuses changed to “strikeout” (referenced above), and Matt Orwig, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, is listed in boldface. Miers, a Texas native, responds, “Good to hear about Matt actually.” Sampson replies, somewhat cryptically and with careless punctuation and capitalization: “yes he’s good. oversight by me.” (US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 6/15/2009 )
Six Muslim men are arrested in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and accused of plotting to attack the Army’s Fort Dix in New Jersey and massacre scores of US soldiers. FBI agent J. P. Weiss says “Today we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.” The FBI says the men had formed a “platoon” and had performed documented reconnaissance of their target. Although no evidence is uncovered linking the men to international terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, several of the men were willing to kill and die “in the name of Allah” according to court records. (Parry 5/8/2007) Officials characterize the plot as “homegrown” and still in the planning stages. They state that no attack was imminent. (CBS News 5/8/2007) The plotters are characterized as self-directed terrorist sympathizers. US Attorney Christopher J. Christie says, “Unlike other cases we’ve done, there was no clear ringleader. They all seemed to feed off each other. They were clearly guys turning to this element for inspiration. They wanted to be jihadists.” (Russakoff and Eggen 5/9/2007) The men are identified as ethnic Albanian Yugoslavian illegal immigrants Dritan Duka, his brothers Eljvir Duka and Shain Duka, legal Turkish immigrant Serdar Tartar, and US citizens Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer and Agron Abdullah. (Hurriyet 5/8/2007) The FBI was first made aware of the alleged plot in January 2006. An unidentified Circuit City store clerk alerted police to a video that showed the men firing assault weapons, calling for jihad and yelling “God is great” in Arabic, according to officials. The video had been taken into the store in order to be transferred to DVD. The video came from firearms training in the Poconos, according to the indictment. (Russakoff and Eggen 5/9/2007) The FBI managed to implant an informant in the group of friends. This informant discovered 50 loaded 9mm magazines in Tartar’s car. (Hurriyet 5/8/2007) Another informant infiltrated the group and was told of the plans to attack military installations. Shnewer was recorded as saying, “My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers… This is exactly what we are looking for. You hit four, five or six Humvees and light the whole place [up] and retreat completely without any losses.” (US Department of Justice 5/8/2007 ) The men allegedly possessed jihadist videos and documents, including copies of the last will and testament of two of the 9/11 hijackers. (US Department of Justice 5/8/2007 ) The target was allegedly decided by information gathered by one of the men, Tartar, who had access to Fort Dix from a job delivering pizzas there. (Hurriyet 5/8/2007) The men are arrested when they attempt to buy AK-47s, M-16s, and other weapons from yet another FBI informant. (Parry 5/8/2007) Most face possible life sentences. (Russakoff and Eggen 5/9/2007)
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft denies any conflict of interest in his involvement in a deal for the Justice Department to monitor a corporation accused of breaking the law. Ashcroft, now a lobbyist for the Ashcroft Group, agreed for his firm to become a Justice Department monitor for Zimmer Holdings Inc, which manufactures replacement hip and knee joints. Zimmer agreed to pay $310 million in fees to settle charges of bribing doctors. Ashcroft was first asked to get involved in the deal in September 2007 by New Jersey US Attorney Christopher Christie, who worked for Ashcroft when he headed the department; reports indicate that Christie hand-picked Ashcroft in return for keeping Zimmer out of court. Such a deal is known as a “deferred prosecution agreement.” Ashcroft denies any involvement in the bidding for the contract, said to be worth between $28-$52 million—the Ashcroft Group is being paid $750,000 per month and $895 an hour, allegedly all from Zimmer—and denies any conflict of interest in his position.
Denial by Ashcroft - The no-bid contract was not “a backroom, sweetheart deal,” Ashcroft insists to a House Judiciary subcommittee investigating the deal. Ashcroft also denies that any public money has been spent on the deal, which was most likely engineered as part of a settlement agreement between Zimmer and the federal government. “There is not a conflict, there is not an appearance of a conflict,” says Ashcroft.
Alleged Conflict of Interests - The panel chairwoman, Linda Sanchez (D-CA) disagrees, saying that Ashcroft secured “what appeared to be a backroom, sweetheart deal” to serve as an independent corporate monitor and collect the multimillion-dollar fees. Sanchez also notes there was no public notice, no bidding, and Ashcroft had to use considerable time to prepare for the assignment and learn more about the business. She asks Ashcroft with apparent disbelief, “You don’t believe that it may be a conflict of interest in a former employee hiring the former boss, or suggesting that he be hired, for a very lucrative monitoring contract?” Ashcroft says that such a situation is not a conflict at all.
Monitoring "Lax" - Fellow House member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) says the current system of selecting monitors such as Ashcroft is far too lax, and can easily be manipulated by corporations with friends inside the Justice Department. Pallone is sponsoring legislation that would require federal judges to approve monitoring contracts.
Republican Reaction - Meanwhile, House Republicans defend Ashcroft, with one, Chris Cannon (R-UT) calling Sanchez’s questions “appalling.” Ashcroft’s ethics are “unquestioned,” he asserts. (Associated Press 3/11/2008; Goldstein 3/11/2008)
New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman profiles Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), who also serves as a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988). According to close friends and advisers to Ailes interviewed by Sherman, Ailes wants far more than the continued ratings and advertiser success of Fox News—he wants the network to steer one of its own into the White House in 2012 (see October 2008). He is tremendously influential; a Republican strategist tells Sherman: “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger. Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.”
Letdown? - Ailes has been keenly disappointed in the results of his network’s official and unofficial candidates so far. Former Alaska governor and Fox commentator Sarah Palin (see September 15-16, 2010), who has not yet announced her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, is polling at around 12 percent among Republican voters. Official presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Rick Santorum, a former senator, who both are commentators for Fox, have even lower numbers, at 10 percent and 2 percent respectively. Ailes has asked Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), who is not a Fox employee, to run; until recently, Fox News was enthusiastically promoting the putative presidential run of billionaire “birther” Donald Trump (see March 17, 2011). Ailes has envisioned General David Petraeus as a potential candidate, but Petraeus has instead accepted the post of CIA director. “He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” says a Republican close to Ailes. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of [President] Obama is a disaster.” None of the current crop of candidates meets Ailes’s expectations. Ailes is particularly disappointed in Palin; according to the same Republican, Ailes considers her “an idiot”: “He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.” After Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011, and other media outlets focused on Palin’s use of gunsight graphics to “target” Giffords and other vulnerable Democrats in the 2010 election (see March 24, 2010), according to Sherman, “Ailes recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable.” After the Giffords shooting, Ailes told an interviewer, “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’” Ailes was infuriated when Palin refused his advice to remain quiet until after the memorial service, and accused her critics of committing “blood libel,” a phrase often seen as anti-Semitic. The problem with Palin was further exacerbated when she argued about the amount of work Fox expects her to do: she does not want to host special broadcasts or other tasks the network expects of her. In March 2011, Fox suspended the contracts of Gingrich and Santorum so they could run their campaigns without legal or ethical entanglements. Shortly thereafter, Huckabee chose to remain at Fox and abandon his plans for a primary challenge. The network is still waiting for Palin’s decision whether to run for president.
Creation of the Tea Party - While Ailes and Fox News did not directly create the “tea party” “grassroots” movement, Ailes was involved in its creation and promotion from its outset (see February 19, 2009, February 27, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Ailes has always been somewhat leery of having Fox News too closely associated with the burgeoning movement (see March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 2, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 12, 2009, and September 12, 2010), and at one point banned Fox News host Sean Hannity from hosting a tea party rally. However, according to Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and the founder of the national Tea Party Express tour, “There would not have been a tea party without Fox.” Fox News has promoted a number of successful “tea party” candidates (see May 14, 2008 - February 2010), including former host John Kasich (see March 27, 2008 - June 1, 2009 and After), who won the Ohio gubernatorial election in 2010. Before that election, Gingrich, still a Fox News commentator at the time, said that he was confident the “tea party” would evolve into “the militant wing of the Republican Party” (see April 21, 2010). Ailes used some of the same “astroturf” tactics (see February 27, 2009 and April 14, 2009) in developing the “tea party” as he did when he represented tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds, creating phony, seemingly independent “front” groups to push the “tea party” messages in the media. (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Politico reporters Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti report on the difficulty of getting solid information about the donors being organized by the billionaire Koch brothers. Oil magnates Charles and David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011) intend to raise at least $400 million to defeat President Obama in the 2012 election (see Late May 2012), and to ensure victory for Republicans in state and local races around the nation (see February 21, 2012). Vogel and Parti call the Koch political operation “its own political party,” almost, even going so far as to hold its own semi-annual conventions, including one scheduled for late June in San Diego. That convention will bring together dozens of millionaire and billionaire conservatives, who will write big checks for the Koch efforts. Additionally, the Kochs will unveil their new voter database, Themis (see April 2010 and After), which they expect will help in targeting potential Republican voters around the country. Themis played a big part in a recent successful effort to stop Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) from being recalled, as did huge amounts of Koch-organized donations on behalf of Walker. Three of the prime figures in the Koch efforts are convention “emcee” Kevin Gentry and political operatives Marc Short and Tim Phillips (see May 29, 2009); the operation is orchestrated primarily by Koch advisor and operative Richard Fink. Additionally, the Koch brothers intend to take over the Cato Institute think tank (see February 29, 2012) and make it more politically active. Minnesota television station owner Stanley Hubbard, a longtime Koch supporter, says: “They ask for support—and they get it because we all love our country and we have a different vision than do the liberals. I’ve gotten friends to be involved, and I think others have, too, so I would guess, yes, that’s expanding.” Vogel and Parti expand on how secretive the Koch network (which they call “Koch World”) actually is. They are unable to find out where the San Diego convention is to be held, though they did determine that it is scheduled to take place over the weekend of June 23. A Republican who has worked with Koch-backed groups says: “The Koch groups are very complex in the way they do things. They’re difficult to penetrate from the outside, which is smart. You often need a Sherpa.” The conventions are heavily patrolled by hired security guards, who at one recent convention threw out a Politico reporter under threat of arrest. Participants are required not to discuss the convention with outsiders, including making posts on Facebook or Web blogs. (The winter 2011 convention in Rancho Mirage, California, leaked to the press, sparking what Politico calls “raucous protests” outside the exclusive resort hosting the conference.) According to Vogel and Parti, Phillips runs the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004 and November 2009). Short oversees the spending of Koch network monies by other approved groups, some of which air television ads attacking Democrats. Gentry raises money for the Koch network. Gentry often uses urgent and even apocalyptic rhetoric in his fundraising appeals, warning potential donors of “dangerous and imminent threats” to American society and comparing the Koch conventions to the Continental Congress of 1776. One recent email lauded efforts by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to help the Koch brothers’ fundraising. Gentry also spearheads the fundraising efforts for an informal network of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, AFP, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Some conservatives are uncomfortable with the Koch brothers’ attempts to gain dominance in conservative party politics. “Koch has been angling for the last three or four years to consolidate more of the conservative movement within their network,” says one conservative operative. “That’s why they do these seminars—to try to consolidate more big donors’ money and direct it into their projects.” The operative admits that the Koch fundraising efforts are very effective, saying, “Some of the donors believe giving to one source makes it easier for them instead of having to give to a dozen different places, and others just want to come out to hang with the billionaire brothers and be part of a very elite universe.” Koch conventions regularly feature prominent conservatives like Thomas and fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Texas Governor Rick Perry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Virginia Governor Bob McConnell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. While federal documents track some $120 million in donations from recent Koch summit donors, most of the money raised and spent goes untracked, instead being hidden away by “nonprofit” groups that purport to be non-political social advocacy groups. Gentry has assured donors, “There is anonymity that we can protect.” (Vogel and Parti 6/15/2012)
The First National Romney Victory Leadership Retreat, a two-day, invitation-only conference in Park City, Utah, features a number of prominent Republican lawmakers and financiers gathered to coordinate strategy for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA). The Washington Post describes the event as three days of “strategizing and fraternizing.” One donor and member of Romney’s national finance team told a reporter before the event that a “well organized, committed team” is expected who are “subordinating individual ego for the greater goal.” Perhaps the most controversial figure attending is Karl Rove, the former Bush administration political advisor who now helps run American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012). The two groups have been heavily involved in running advertisements and other activities on behalf of the Romney campaign, but the law says the groups must conduct themselves independently of the Romney campaign. The Post reports, “Rove’s appearance could raise questions because of laws barring any coordination between super PACs and campaigns.” Common Cause’s Mary Boyle says that Rove’s appearance “seems to make a mockery of the rule that bans coordination between a super PAC and a candidate.” Tara Malloy, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, agrees with Boyle, but says Rove’s participation in the event is probably legal. “[T]he coordination rule is a pretty slim reed between candidates and the super PACs that support those candidates,” she says. “It’s not by any means an airtight barrier between those two.” To break the law, Romney campaign officials would have to have a “substantial discussion” with Rove about advertising strategies. Malloy says, “The scandal in Washington is what is legal, not what’s illegal.” Other attendees include former Secretary of State James A. Baker; former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, the founder of the American Action Network (AAN), another influential “independent” super PAC (see Mid-October 2010); Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH), a possible vice-presidential contender for Romney; former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (who will lead Romney’s transition team if Romney wins the presidential election); Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA), another possible vice-presidential choice; former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), also on the vice-presidential “short list”; former Governor John Sununu (R-NH); and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to the assemblage, as does former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), a possible vice-presidential pick, moderates a panel discussion on “Innovation in America,” joined by Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, billionaire donor Ken Langone, and two other possible vice-presidential choices, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator John Thune (R-SD). Rove takes part in a panel discussion called “Media Insight,” along with Romney counsel Ben Ginsberg, Kristol and his Weekly Standard colleague Fred Barnes, and GOP strategist Mary Matalin. A “Women for Romney Victory Tea” features Romney’s wife Anne and former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill. Possible vice-presidential choices Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), and Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) do not attend the conference. Nor does Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), a popular Republican who is not known to be on the vice-presidential list. Many Wall Street and private equity donors are also in attendance, welcomed by Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and the co-chair of Romney’s national finance team. One finance team member predicts the three-day event will raise as much as $700 million for Romney’s campaign. (Walshe 6/20/2012; Rucker 6/20/2012; Israel 6/21/2012)
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