Citing troubling reports that U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie and his political lieutenants have traveled around the state promoting his candidacy for Governor in 2009, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) today called on Christie to release his public and private schedules for the last two years so that the public can make its own judgment regarding possible political activity by the U.S. Attorney.
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, the New Jersey congressman voiced concern over these activities and asked for clarification of the appropriate role, if any, U.S. Attorneys can have in political affairs.
Pallone pointed to U.S. Department of Justice guidelines that prohibit U.S. Attorneys from engaging in partisan political activity. The U.S. Attorneys' Manual states that certain members of the Department's senior leadership, including political appointees such as the U.S. Attorney, are prohibited from "participating actively in political management or political campaigns."
A copy of Pallone's letter follows.
United States Department of Justice
Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
September 5, 2008
Dear Attorney General Mukasey:
I am extremely troubled by a series of reports of political activity by our U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Christopher J. Christie, and I write to you today to bring this to your attention and seek guidance and clarification on what the appropriate role for the U.S. Attorney is in political affairs, if any.
Over the last few months, and perhaps longer than that, Mr. Christie and/or his political lieutenants have traveled around the state promoting his potential candidacy for Governor in 2009. I find it wholly inappropriate that a sitting U.S. Attorney be allowed to so publicly use his office as a stepping stone for political gain. Outreach to the community and publicizing his successful efforts at combating corruption are laudable endeavors and important to the work of the Department of Justice. However, the clear pattern of pre-campaign actions of Mr. Christie, and his very public allies and surrogates, appear to cross the line into self promotion and abuse of the immense authority he wields as the state's chief federal law enforcement officer.
Furthermore, it is my understanding that under the United States Attorneys' Manual, Department of Justice (DOJ) guidelines and federal law that U.S. Attorneys' are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity. For instance §1-4.400 of the U.S. Attorneys' Manual states that certain members of the Department's senior leadership, including political appointees such as the U.S. Attorney, are prohibited from "participating actively in political management or political campaigns." Senior DOJ employees and particularly political appointees should be held to a high standard that protects the integrity of the judicial process and engenders faith in our justice system.
This past July, Patrick Meehan, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, stepped down prior to the completion of his term. Numerous press reports attributed this to his potential run for Governor. I believe that Mr. Meehan's action shows sound judgment and a compliance with not only the letter but the spirit of the law and serves as a model for other U.S. Attorneys' contemplating running for office at the conclusion of their terms.
In New Jersey we are seeing the opposite. I have been surprised and dismayed by the aggressive political outreach by Mr. Christie's allies to create a preliminary campaign infrastructure for a future run for governor while he continues to serve as the U.S. Attorney. Recent press reports have indicated that "Team Christie," Mr. Christie's brother Todd, NJ Republican Chairman Tom Wilson, Republican fundraiser Bill Palatucci and members of the NJ State Legislature have been aggressively building support in New Jersey and, most recently, at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota for Mr. Christie's campaign.
There are simple and clear actions that Mr. Christie can take to add transparency to this situation. Mr. Christie should release his public and private schedules for the last two years- of course with any truly sensitive material redacted- so that the public can make its own judgment regarding possible political activity. To further clear the air on his behavior, I call on Mr. Christie to sign an affidavit stating that neither he, his staff, his relatives nor anyone else associated with him has discussed or engaged in activities that would violate the Manual or any other relevant ethics codes and laws.
While Mr. Christie and his political team claim they are not coordinating this obvious campaign activity, this aggressive and public shadow campaign creates the undeniable appearance of inappropriate political activity by a sitting U.S. Attorney, undermines the authority and impartiality of his office, and shakes the confidence in government that Mr. Christie has fought so hard to restore through his aggressive efforts to combat public corruption.
FRANK PALLONE, JR.
Member of Congress
Cc: Christopher J. Christie, United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey