Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie's decision to testify in front of a congressional subcommittee next week was the logical choice, according to Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.
"It was clear he was going to have to do this at some point in time," he said.
Christie will testify about a type of corporate fraud settlement called deferred prosecution agreements, in which defendants can avoid prosecution by taking on monitors and making other types of restitution. U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) and Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) have pending legislation reforming the way the agreements are given out, which is largely inspired by Christie.
Christie's use of the tools to assign former Attorney General John Ashcroft's firm to oversee a medical implant company for a corporate-paid contract worth $28 to $52 million garnered a lot of controversy in late 2007, drawing rebukes from Democrats hoping to take off a little of his corruption-busting luster. More controversies arose when members of a law firm that received a contract to oversee the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey later donated to Christie's gubernatorial campaign, and when critics accused Christie of giving former Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney David Kelley a contract in exchange for not prosecuting his brother.
In March, 2008, the same subcommittee asked Christie to testify about the Ashcroft contract, but he refused. Ashcroft, who the committee's members threatened with a subpoena, did testify.
But if Christie refused to testify this time, Democrats would have more fodder for negative ads than they will likely get out of the testimony.
Perhaps luckily for Christie, the hearing is set for a busy day in Trenton. The legislature will vote on the state budget and the renomination of state Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin – a hot button issue for Republicans.
"It's fortuitous in some ways the day that it's falling on," said Murray.
Still, Murray predicted that the Christie testimony will be the big story of the day, even if it has to compete with Albin and the budget.
"It's the one we don't know how it will turn out," he said.
Fairleigh Dickinson University pollster Peter Woolley agreed that Christie was wise not to refuse to testify, but noted the danger inherent in answering questions for an afternoon.
"His words are going to be parsed," he said. "It's dangerous either way. There's a risk of handing Democrats a key campaign theme."