House set to authorize Ashcroft subpoena, but not Christie

When the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law meets tomorrow, it will likely authorize committee chairman John Conyers to subpoena former Attorney General John Ashcroft regarding the federal oversight contract he received to monitor a medical implant company.

But not on the agenda tomorrow is whether to subpoena U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who gave Ashcroft, his former boss, the contract. Ashcroft stands to make anywhere from $27 to $52 million overseeing the company, which agreed in a deferred prosecution agreement to accept oversight rather than face prosecution.

“I don’t think it would be correct to say it hasn’t been considered. It just hasn’t been done,” said Michael Torra, Chief of Staff to Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA). “Of course it’s a different situation between considering someone who’s now a private citizen versus a sitting federal prosecutor.”

The committee invited both men to testify weeks ago, but postponed it after neither agreed to attend. Christie has said repeatedly that he will go only if asked by the Justice Department, which had been unresponsive to letters from New Jersey Reps. Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell.

The committee’s staff continues to talk with the Justice Department to secure Christie’s testimony. If that effort fails, then it may consider sending a subpoena to Christie.

Pallone (D-NJ), who’s authoring legislation regarding how deferred prosecution agreements are assigned, said that the committee should subpoena Christie if he doesn’t attend voluntarily.

“With Ashcroft they probably tried to negotiate something and failed,” said Pallone. “I assume they’re trying the same thing with Christie.”

While Democrats have been criticized for trying to get Christie to testify in order to damage his potential political future as a gubernatorial candidate, Pallone said that Christie’s testimony would shine the most light on how deferred prosecution agreements have been assigned.

“I think for that reason alone he should testify, because he’s going to have the most experience, or a lot of experience that some other U.S. Attorneys don’t have with these.”

But while Pallone said that Christie can testify without the Department of Justice’s permission, the U.S. Attorney’s manual says that the U.S. Attorney should refer “requests for interviews, statements or appearances to or before Congressional, members, staff and committees” to the DOJ’s Counsel to the Director (CTD). The manual goes on to say not to provide information without “obtaining authorization from the proper Department authorities.”

Pallone, however, feels that, if Christie really wanted to testify, the DOJ would let him.

Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) was first to call on the House Judiciary Committees to hold hearings on the matter. He would be out of order, he said, to say whether he believes the committee should subpoena Christie.

“Since (Christie) has been so willing to speak out about this before, I don’t know why his superiors would not allow him to do that,” he said. “I have nothing to suggest that (Christie) will not be cooperative. I have nothing to suggest that he’s trying to be devious about this or trying to distract us in any way.”

Pascrell said he isn’t bothered that the Committee hasn’t yet considered whether to subpoena Christie, since they’re moving fast compared to the typical glacial pace with which Washington tends to conduct business . Rather, he’s encouraged that Congress has already shined light on deferred prosecution agreements, and noted that the DOJ is conducting an internal review of the practice.

“This is now out in the open. It wasn’t before last November. A lot of the decisions by the US attorneys are coming into review, as they should be,” he said.

House set to authorize Ashcroft subpoena, but not Christie