Federal prosecutors should obviate the appearance of conflict by taking politics out of the process that awards lucrative no-bid contracts for federal monitor posts, says Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., in a clear swipe at New Jersey's United States Attorney, Christopher J. Christie.
"The seemingly unfettered discretion that your office enjoys to frame the agreement and its terms, including choosing a firm or individual to monitor the agreement, invites the very sort of favoritism, political interference, and back room dealing that your office has been so successful in combating throughout New Jersey," Pallone wrote in a letter to Christie.
Pallone, a Monmouth County Democrat, says that he is "troubled" by published reports that Christie gave his former boss, ex-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a job monitoring Zimmer Holdings, a medical device manufacturer who agreed to a $311 million settlement and hire federal monitors to deal with allegations that the firm paid promote their products.
Ashcroft could make more than $50 million over the next eighteen months off a contract Christie awarded that pays between $1.5 million and $2.9 million monthly.
Noting "the significant potential for this discretion to be abused" Pallone is asking Christie to ask a third party, like a Judge or an independent panel, to appoint federal monitors.
Pallone, wants to "remove even the appearance of impropriety that is so easily created when such a large amount of money is being directed to a former employer or colleague."
"I am willing to draft legislation to provide a more transparent and appropriate process for the use of deferred prosecution agreements and, in particular, the ways with which federal monitors are chosen," wrote Pallone, the senior Democrat in the New Jersey congressional delegation.
Pallone also told Christie that he doesn't necessarily approve of prosecutors using the "threat of criminal prosecution as leverage" to allow corporations or organizations under federal review to be "managed" by the U.S. Attorney's office.
"Where criminal activity has been uncovered, either by a public official or a corporation, it would seem that the appropriate response of your office would be to prosecute that actor and not simply allow them to continue to operate under your guidance and supervision," Pallone told Christie.
Pallone is the first major Democratic official to publicly take on Christie, the front runner for the 2009 Republican nomination for Governor.