In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Representative Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) charged that Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra has “completely compromised any sense of neutrality” and committed a “serious breach of ethics” in written comments he made to his office’s staffers.
In an email announcing First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Brown’s resignation, Marra wrote that the office — which was run by Chris Christie, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, until December — “has been unfairly drawn into a political campaign through the barrage of FOIA requests; the purported controversy over Michele’s personal loan, and a wholly trumped up (and then apparently leaked) complaint, reportedly about my generic and general comments at the Bid Rig press conference and the timing of the Bid Rig takedown.”
“The dedicated professionals in that office have no agenda and work in a professional, non-partisan manner to make sure the law is properly enforced. His internal e-mail appears to be an attempt to make basic requests for information appear to be somehow unfair and ‘political’” wrote Pallone.
Pallone was named honorary chairman this week of Governor Corzine’s campaign, which has made a campaign issue out of an alleged slow response from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in filling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests it made in March. They also took issue with Brown — who continues to pay Christie’s $46,000 loan back in monthly increments — having a role in filling those requests, even though many of them were for her own records.
“Mr. Marra’s refusal to heed calls to have Ms. Brown removed from handling the FOIA requests in question only compound his compromised neutrality in this matter. Although Ms. Brown has chosen to resign immediately, Mr. Marra’s actions and comments only make the questions about the way his office is handling these public information requests persist,” wrote Pallone.
At the end of his letter, Pallone said that Marra should either fill the Corzine campiagn’s FOIA requests or “step aside from that process.”
Below is the full text of Pallone’s letter:
TO: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
CC: Ralph Marra,
Acting U.S. Attorney for the State of New Jersey
Newark U.S. Attorney’s Office 970 Broad Street, 7th Floor
Newark, NJ 07102
From: Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
237 Cannon Building
August 26, 2009
The Honorable Eric Holder, United States Attorney General:
In light of comments originating from the United State Attorney’s Office last night following the announced resignation of Assistant United States Attorney Michele Brown, I want to convey significant concerns with the way the office has handled the Corzine Campaign’s requests for information to this point as well as Acting United States Attorney Ralph Marra’s public comments regarding this matter.
In Mr. Marra’s letter to the entire staff in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he characterized the information requested as a “barrage of requests” and termed them “political”. In fact, it was more than 161 days ago that his office received basic Freedom of Information Act requests for the schedules, travel records and other pertinent information relevant to the public trust. Had his office continued to delay the release of this routine information based on completely reasonable, routine and legal reasons, that would be cause enough for concern. But last night’s comments from the Acting U.S. Attorney, whose neutrality in the face of the law is of paramount importance, make it clear that he has completely compromised any sense of neutrality. I regard this as a serious breach of ethics.
These statements and actions – or lack of actions – by Mr. Marra, are even more disturbing in light of recent revelations about political, and non-political, activities undertaken by his predecessor, Chris Christie. Recently, through Congressional testimony, we have learned that Mr. Christie, while he was U.S. Attorney, sought and took political advice regarding a potential run for governor directly from Karl Rove. This appears to be a direct violation of the Hatch Act. Further, when it came to light that the second Assistant United States Attorney, Michele Brown, had received an unreported loan from Mr. Christie that she was still in the process of paying back, Mr. Marra’s office allowed her to continue overseeing the freedom of information requests. This is despite the fact that they directly affected Mr. Christie, to whom she was personally indebted. Mr. Marra’s refusal to heed calls to have Ms. Brown removed from handling the FOIA requests in question only compound his compromised neutrality in this matter. Although Ms. Brown has chosen to resign immediately, Mr. Marra’s actions and comments only make the questions about the way his office is handling these public information requests persist.
I would also like to take this opportunity to let you know just how inappropriate I think the comments in Mr. Marra’s letter to staff were. The dedicated professionals in that office have no agenda and work in a professional, non-partisan manner to make sure the law is properly enforced. His internal e-mail appears to be an attempt to make basic requests for information appear to be somehow unfair and “political”.
The FOIA’s submitted in March were requests for the most basic of information and should be filled immediately. Again, the records the campaign is seeking include basic information from Chris Christie’s time as United States Attorney including budgets , travel expenses and schedules. The requests are also for details of no-bid contracts Christie awarded, including the one given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Further, the requests for Mr. Christie’s communications with former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, and communications between Mr. Christie and current officials in the United States Attorney’s office since Mr. Christie resigned as U.S. Attorney, are particularly relevant in light of everything reported in the press the past couple of weeks.
The United States Attorney’s office is filled with dedicated, driven, career professionals. In Mr. Marra’s letter last night, he acknowledged that he is being investigated for his comments and actions with regard to the Bid Rig trial. While this revelation comes as a surprise to myself and the public at large, I believe it speaks even stronger to the need for Mr. Marra to immediately provide the basic information requested through the public information requests, or step aside from that process.
Frank Pallone, Jr.
United States Congress