by MAX PIZARRO
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell on Thursday said the news that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s office included the name of popular U.S. Attorney Chris Christie on a list of U.S. attorneys slated for firing at the very least suggests a political motivation and underscores Gonzales’s ill-fitness for office.
“The random appearance and sudden removal of Mr. Christie from the Administration’s firing list just adds to the suspicion that most of us now have towards the Attorney General,” Pascrell said. “Something stinks at the Department of Justice, and the time for real answers is long past due. I, along with many bipartisan members of Congress, no longer have any confidence in the veracity and independence of Alberto Gonzales. It is past time for him to go so we might restore integrity and vitality to the Department of Justice.”
Pascrell’s comments came on the day The Washington Post reported that Christie was one of 26 prosecutors between February of 2005 and December of 2006 whose name was included among those of other U.S. attorneys the Department of Justice was eyeballing for dismissal. Gonzales testified before Congress last week that his office had slated eight U.S. Attorneys for removal, but the Post reported that Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales's chief of staff, considered more than two dozen U.S. attorneys for termination, according to lists compiled by him and his colleagues.
They amounted to more than a quarter of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys. Thirteen of those known to have been targeted are still in their posts, Christie among them.
"We don't know how he got on and off that list," said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney, reiterating Christie's point to the Post. "It's a complete mystery to us. …We're clueless as to why he was chosen. This U.S. Attorney's Office has always received the highest marks."
Less than two weeks before President George W. Bush arrives in Edison for a party fundraiser, Republicans here are downplaying the Gonzales affair, or seeing in the news about Christie an opportunity to defend the embattled Attorney General.
“I think the DOJ is a huge bureaucracy,” said Tom Wilson, the GOP State Chairman. “Nobody knows where that list was generated. It could have been the case of an over-zealous staffer. What’s important here is that Chris Christie was held over, and that speaks to the wisdom and credibility of the Attorney General.”
But Drewniak said that "the whole thing has been a disappointment."
Christie, a Republican fund-raiser who was appointed by Bush in 2002 to the post of U.S. Attorney, quickly developed a reputation as a hardnosed lawman, willing to go in and take down corrupt Republicans and Democrats alike.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Chris Christie could care less whether crooked politicians are Democrats or Republicans,” said Sen. Majority Leader Richard Codey. “I really believe he could care less. The fact is, there happens to be more Democrats than Republicans in this state.”
Christie’s decision to slap Sen. Robert Menendez with a subpoena 62 days prior to the November 2006 election left members of the Menendez campaign not only scrambling to defend their boss but carping about protocol. They said a U.S. Attorney typically does not drop a bombshell so close to an election, and insisted the U.S. Attorney's actions were strictly political. Christie himself acknowledged that the 60 days prior to Election Day are off-limits for election-changing announcements.
Drewniak said the administration never pressured Christie or the U.S. Attorney's Office to pursue a particular case.
The fact that Christie appeared on the list roughly within the time frame of the lead up to the election last year set off alarm bells in some Democratic quarters, but not enough for them to want to risk getting on Christie’s bad side.
Like Drewniak, who pointed to the investigation ongoing by Congress, others remain curious about how the process plays out.
“I don’t have too much information on how they created the list and what they have done to revise it,” said U.S. Rep. Donald Payne. “It was their system and their process. As an outsider, it’s difficult for me to comment, but I would be glad to hear what the rationale was.”