U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, a likely candidate for the 2009 Republican nomination for Governor, was on home turf this morning at a speaking engagement at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Madison campus — just a short drive from his house in Mendham.
It was another stop on the corruption busting prosecutor’s public circuit: once again he rattled off his 125 convictions, recounted stories of jaw amazingly blatant corruption and fended off what he said were politically-inspired attacks on his record — without going into specifics.
Christie made no reference to the ongoing controversy over his appointment of John Ashcroft to a federal monitoring contract worth between $27 and $52 million, instead arguing more broadly that his office has been accused of acting with political motivations by both parties. After the event, Christie said that he would not answer any questions regarding Ashcroft or the contract.
Christie brought up his prosecution of former Essex County Executive Jim Treffinger, a Republican. He also mentioned criticism he faced for the prosecution of high profile Democrats, and the September arrest of 12 public figures – 11 of whom were Democrats.
“I remember Jim Treffinger’s campaign put out statements at the time, and supporters of his that said this was a political move on my part because I was trying to clear away Republican competition for a political move,” he said. “Each political party will take their shots at the U.S. Attorney’s office when it’s their ox that’s being board.”
After a member of the audience asked Christie the breakdown of his prosecutions along party lines, he said that he intentionally did not keep a list. But he estimated that it’s roughly 60% Democrats to 40% Republicans.
It’s hard not to describe corruption as an “epidemic” in New Jersey, said Christie, who ranked the state third behind Louisiana and Illinois in terms of its official malfeasance. The only way to combat that, he said, is for the public to start holding their elected officials accountable rather than replaying what he said is the official state song: “The Song of Cynicism.”
Christie noted that after polls showed property taxes as the main concern of the electorate in 2005, both Gov. Corzine and then-opponent Doug Forrester were eager to address the issue. If the public cared as much about corruption, he said, public officials might behave differently.
“We’re Jersey. We’re stuck between New York and Philly. We have a bit of an attitude, a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. We don’t have a network TV station. We’re a little P.O’d,” he said. “But when the attitude and chip on your shoulder devolves into cynicism, it’s a problem…. We need to hold public officials to a higher standard – we need to hold them to account for what they promise us, and for their conduct.”
Christie has faced criticism in the past for engaging in speaking engagements like this one, with critics saying that the appearances are meant to lay the groundwork for a widely expected gubernatorial campaign in 2009.
“U.S. Attorneys are invited to do speaking engagements all the time. If I was going to speak to the Parsippany Republican Club, I would see someone having a problem with that – that would be improper. But if a university asks me to come and speak at a public forum about public corruption and what I do in my job, should I say no?” he said. “I’m a public official but I’m going to be completely unresponsive to the public?… That would be completely irresponsible.”
And, as expected, Christie offered no clues as to whether he’s thinking about running for Governor next year.
“I’m not going to make any decision about what to do after I leave this job until I know I’m leaving this job, and I don’t know that yet for sure,” he said, noting that he’s promised the Justice Department to stay in the job at least until the presidential election is over. Christie has previously stated that he may be willing to stay in the job if asked to do so by the next President – a real possibility of John McCain wins the election.
“Let’s see what happens after the election,” he said.
But he already has a supporter in Madison Mayor Mary-Anna Holden, who said that she would support Christie if he ran for Governor — or anything else.
"If he runs for dog catcher he's got my support," she said.
Christie was called on today by both Republican Senate candidate Murray Sabrin’s campaign and liberal blog Bluejersey.com to investigate Senate candidate Andy Unanue for voting in New Jersey and living in New York.
Christie said that he’s unaware of the situation and was unsure whether it fell under federal or state authority, but that the reports would not have gone unnoticed by his office.