A Washington, DC-based ethics watchdog group has asked the Office of the Special Counsel to investigate whether Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie violated the Hatch Act by talking about a potential gubernatorial run with Karl Rove when he was still U.S. Attorney.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) based the request on last week’s revelation that Rove had two conversations with Christie about the prospect, possibly both before and after he left his roles as a senior advisor to the president and deputy chief of staff in 2007. Christie left his post as U.S. Attorney on December 1, 2008.
“Mr. Rove’s statements demonstrate that while Mr. Christie was the U.S. Attorney, he met with individuals to plan the logistics and strategy of a campaign and to seek support in his efforts to secure the Republican nomination for governor in violation of the Hatch Act,” said CREW in a press release.
The Christie campaign last week characterized the discussions with rove was informal. A federal employee can discuss his or her political future in informal discussions without violating the Hatch Act.
“The Hatch Act is intended to ensure federal employees do their jobs without regard to partisan politics,” said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan. “Mr. Christie’s actions call into question whether the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated and prosecuted cases based on application of the law to the facts, or because certain prosecutions might have enhanced his prospects of securing the Republican nomination for governor.”
Sloan said that the conversation didn't appear informal to her, but that was one thing an investigation could determine.
In her letter to Acting Special Counsel William Rekauf, Sloan also asked his office to investigate whether Christie “had other conversations or engaged in other activities in furtherance of his candidacy for governor in violation of the law.”
CREW is a non-partisan group that prides itself in targeting both Democrats and Republicans. In 2008, they filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that U.S. Rep. Rob Anrews (D-Haddon Heights) used campaign cash to buy clothing meant for personal use.
Although the Special Counsel can not enforce the Hatch Act after an employee leaves office, as Christie has, CREW said that they could push on with an investigation because "The Merit Systems Protection Board has held the OSC retains jurisdiction over such matters even whereas here, the employee has left the federal government."
At most, Sloan said, former employees found to have violated the act can be barred from returning to work in the federal government.
"It's not just that it will send a message, but I think it would not be particularly healthy for Mr. Christie if the OSC were to rule that he violated the Hatch Act," she said.