U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie wants to be clear on this point: his appointment of his former boss to a lucrative position overseeing a legally troubled medical implant company bears no resemblance to the way Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero runs his political organization.
“If you want to make the Joe Ferriero analogy, I think is a real stretch,” answered Christie to a question posed Bergen Record columnist Al Doblin. “I’m not calling up the U.S. Attorney General the next day and saying you need to write a $25,000 check to the Bergen County Democratic Organization.”
Just a few days shy of the seventh anniversary of his appointment to the U.S. Attorney Post, Christie is embroiled in one of the few instances during his term that has drawn open criticism from Democrats. Christie, the seemingly untouchable U.S. Attorney and Republican golden boy, engaged in an hour-and-half long question and answer session with Bergen Record columnist Alfred Doblin last night at Bergen Community College, touching on everything from his political prospects to the most shocking case he’s ever prosecuted. Most importantly, however, he defended himself against recent Democratic criticism for hiring former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Two weeks ago, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone wrote a letter to Christie expressing concern over the appointment of Ashcroft, while U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell has asked the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on how federal monitors are appointed. To Democrats, Christie’s election of Ashcroft reeks of the same type of no-bid contracts that are at the center of so many corruption cases Christie has prosecuted.
Although Christie never responded to Pallone’s letter, he has repeatedly made the case that deferred prosecution agreements and the appointment of federal monitors are necessary to keep vital companies in business and save thousands of jobs, rather than prosecute companies to the point of putting them out of business. But tonight he also addressed why he picked Ashcroft, who was selected along with four other monitors, for a contract that could be worth as much as $52 million.
Zimmer Holdings, Christie noted, has 900 medical doctor consultants on its payroll – many of whom may be on the books merely as a way to give them kickbacks to use their medical implant devices. Christie said he was confident Ashcroft’s firm could handle the job of examining each of those consultants.
“You don’t go to the yellow pages and try to pick out a lawyer and say ‘I want this guy to do that job.’ You try to pick someone who’s serious and you know has run a major organization before.”
He also denied that there was any conflict of interest in hiring someone he used to work for.
“He’s not my boss anymore and there’s nothing in his current capacity that he can do for me except do the job that I gave him,” said Christie.
Christie did not mention Pallone or Pascrell by name, but ascribed their criticism to political opportunism.
“They don’t like (Ashcroft). They see a political opportunity and they want to attack our office. That’s fine. Were used to it,” said Christie. “We’re going to continue to be attacked by politicians in the state because we threaten them.”
By threaten, of course, Christie did not mean the prospect of a gubernatorial run or seeking out any political office. Although he’s arguably the most popular Republican political figure in the state, Christie shed no new light on his political future. But he did leave open the possibility that, should a Republican be elected president, he could stay on as U.S. Attorney.
“If a Democrat wins for president I’m not going to be waiting by the phone to get the call, but if a Republican were elected in 2008, I’d certainly be willing to listen,” said Christie. “If the president asks you to do something in his administration, I think that’s your duty as an American…. I would definitely give it some thought.”
Christie, however, emphasized how much he loves his current job, and brought up his case against real estate tycoon and Democratic donor Charles Kushner as the most shocking thing he’s seen as U.S. Attorney. (Kushner’s son owns PolitickerNJ.com)
Christie also said that former Gov. James McGreevey’s attempt to appoint Kushner as Chairman of the Port Authority demonstrated an “enormous lack of judgment.”
Such condemnations of public officials on Christie’s part have led to grumblings of partisanship from the Democrats in the past. But Christie defended himself against accusations of partisanship, noting his prosecution of high profile Republicans like former Essex County Executive James Treffinger.
“Jim Treffinger said it was a political witch hunt to go after him. The same thing as Bob Janiszewsi and John Lynch said,” said Christie.
But he won’t hide his political affiliation.
“I’m a Republican – I plead guilty,” said Christie.