It was a familiar scene in some respects: Chris Christie holding court, peppered with questions from a scrum of reporters about a fresh corruption bust. Only now, Christie wasn’t U.S. Attorney, but the frontrunner candidate for the top office in the state, and he was standing next to his pick for lieutenant governor, Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno
It looked like a golden opportunity for Christie, who resigned as U.S. Attorney in November, to score some political points off an investigation that started while he still held the post. But Christie said he had trouble seeing today’s events from anything but a law enforcement perspective.
“I can’t see this day in a political context. This matter started while I was at the U.S. Attorney’s office, and as I found out this morning while it was culminating, I can only think of it in terms of what it means in a law enforcement perspective. There will be others who can judge this politically,” he said in response to a question about whether Gov. Corzine should “take a bullet for the party” and not run for reelection. “But today, candidly, given all the hard work that I know went into this by the prosecutors and FBI, I’m having trouble getting myself out of that mode.
The setting of the press conference, a West New York barber shop, was a pre-planned retail campaign stop that was on Christie’s itinerary before the busts took place. Although Christie made an earlier stop in Wayne, he put off questions about the arrests for West New York – appropriately, if coincidentally, located in Hudson County, where federal agents gained a foothold to make connections with allegedly corrupt public officials (The Wayne event coincided with Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra’s press conference).
Christie did not give any details about how the investigation started, referring questions to Marra, and repeatedly crediting career federal prosecutors.
He said he wasn’t being tight lipped because he had to be cautious about giving out information the public is not privy to.
“I’m pretty good at keeping straight in my head what’s out in the public and what I know that only I know, so that’s not why I’m reluctant. I’m reluctant because that’s not my job anymore. It’s the job of the United States Attorney,” he said. “I had seven years to do that.”
When offered the opportunity by a reporter to describe how he would cut back on corruption as Governor, Christie said “we’ll get into that after I’m elected,” adding that it was a day instead to “focus on the great work these professionals did.”
Christie said that he wanted to be governor because as U.S. Attorney he had a “ringside seat” to the problems the state has.
“It seemed to me it was the natural extension for me to try to continue to try to take on not just this, but all the other battles that need to be taken on in New Jersey,” he said.
Christie avoided tying today’s events to the gubernatorial race, knowing that others would do it for him with the election approaching in just three and a half months.
“For the political analysis you’ll have to go to other people who do that for a living. I’ll tell you from my experience as U.S. Attorney, these cases get done they’re ready,” he said.
The press conference came about an hour after a member of Gov. Corzine’s cabinet – Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Joseph Doria, a former mayor of Bayonne and state senate – resigned at the request of Corzine. Doria’s home was searched by federal authorities earlier today.
Christie would not say whether Doria cast a shadow on Corzine, his opponent.
“That’s for the Governor to decide himself. I just found out in the car on the way here about Mr. Doria’s resignation. I haven’t had time to give that any thought,” he said. Kim and I have put out a very clear statement asking for the resignation of Assemblyman Van Pelt, a member of our party.
When asked whether the Governor bore any responsibility for the state’s continuing corruption, Christie said “no comment.”
After his aide cut off questions, Christie found the Spanish speaking owner of the barber shop and thanked him for “letting us take over your store,” then walked into the hardware store next door to get back to regular campaigning.