Bridgegate, the notorious 2013 incident in which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and senior administration staffers allegedly caused a three-day traffic nightmare on the George Washington Bridge as revenge against a political opponent, is still unfolding. But Christie’s goose apparently isn’t well done just yet, because the feds are launching a second probe to investigate the Republican governor’s involvement in yet another criminal case.
This latest scandal for Christie is pretty bad, even by his standards. A source involved with the investigation confirmed to ABC News that federal prosecutors in New Jersey are looking into just what happened to Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Bennett Barlyn, who says he was fired in 2010 because he refused to quash looming indictments against Christie allies.
According to the International Business Times,which originally broke the story, then-county Sheriff Deborah Trout ran her department with such reckless abandonment that state invesigators decided to press 43 indictments against her, Undersheriff Michael Russo and an investigator named John Falat Jr. The state also involved embarrassing allegations against Celgene executive Robert Harini, a “major contributor” to Christie’s campaign and administration transition team member.
But Sheriff Trout knew the right people – in this case, Chris Christie. The trio facing the indictment apparently believed that Christie would step in and magically make all the charges go away. Barlyn argues that’s exactly what happened. After he refused to drop the inquiry, Barlyn says he was fired and Christie’s then-attorney general Paula Dow quietly expunged the indictments.
As the New York Timesnoted back in October 2013, the charges that were dismissed are serious. The 43 indictments “accused Sheriff Deborah Trout of hiring deputies without conducting proper background checks, and making employees sign loyalty oaths. Her deputies, the indictment charged, threatened one of their critics and manufactured fake police badges for a prominent donor [Harini] to Gov. Chris Christie.”
Russo would never had passed a background check, because he had operated a chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that a state commission accused of operating like a “paramilitary organization.” Another deputy Trout disregarded procedure to hire had previously led officers on a manhunt (involving a helicopter) after drunkenly crashing an SUV through a guard rail. A juror told the Times that “The prosecutor was meticulous and so were we. Really, the case felt like a no-brainer until the state killed it.” Indictments in New Jersey are never supposed to be thrown out without evidence of “extreme” prosecutorial misconduct.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. All told, Mother Jones reports that Christie is fighting an astonishing 23 separate court battles to keep the public’s prying eyes out of his dirty laundry, and has already paid out an astonishing $440,000 in reimbursed legal fees to the media for illegally withholding records. That doesn’t even count the extraordinary cost of paying the Christie administration’s legal team to fight reporters in court.
Nor does it account for his other dubious expenses such as taxpayer-covered travel expenses for his upcoming fundraisers. Christie’s also been implicated in pay to play schemes surrounding New Jersey’s state pension funds, allowing his taxpayer-paid staff to serve as campaign workers, and potential securities lawviolations committed when Christie cancelled a Hudson tunnel repair project and directed $1.8 billion in Port Authority funding to the state-owned Pulaski Skyway instead.
This guy apparently still thinks he’s the truth-telling crusader that Americans want to be their president in 2016.
But while Christie’s legal problems are very serious indeed, he can rest easy knowing he’s in good company. Republican governors the country over have proven themselves to be craven, incompetent and wildly corrupt in a way that would make Boss Tweed blush and excuse himself.
In 2011, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign paid out over $240,000 to Southern Magnolia Capital, LLC., a company co-founded by his daughter. After Deal’s election, his administration forced out a senior ethics commission official for stonewalling its attempts to smother the investigation – and that official’s replacement stepped forward to validate her accusations. In 2014, the ethics commission chief said the allegations only went away thanks to threats from Deal’s aides to strip the board of its decision-making authority. Deal’s state has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Six of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s closest aides and associates have been convicted of a series of 15 indictments closely related to his administration, including crimes ranging from embezzlement to violation of campaign finance laws. Walker’s campaign staff set up a secret system to enable taxpayer-paid administration staffers to instead work on his recall campaign, as well as likely engaged in illegal coordination with right-wing backers. In 2011, Gov. Walker was recorded bending over backwards to please a prank caller pretending to be billionaire right-winger David Koch.
Gov. Sam Brownback, whose tax cuts have eviscerated Kansas’ public services and created a 2014 budget shortfall of $338 million, is apparently a petty influence-peddler in addition to a state-destroying Bible-thumper. A federal grand jury is currently looking into loans Brownback and his lieutenant governor made to their own re-election campaign, while several of his former aides and associates are facing another investigation for violations of fundraising and lobbying laws.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry might go to prison for abuse of power in relation to a 2013 incident in which Perry essentially tried to blackmail Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, into resigning. After Lehmberg was involved in a nasty drunk-driving incident, Perry threatened to line-item veto $7.5 million in funding for her Republican-despised ethics unit.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott might be the most corrupt of the bunch. After committing what was then the largest Medicaid fraud in history while CEO of Columbia / HCA, Scott spent $70 million of his own money to get elected, rewrote the state’s ethics laws and now allegedly shields $200 million in wealth from public scrutiny in a series of complex financial hidey-holes. He also looks like Skeletor.
How many more examples of Republican gubernatorial incompetence does the country need before it stops electing corrupt right-wing nutjobs to the most important executive positions in their states? Unfortunately, probably many. With Republican governors swinging much farther to the right than ever before (and increasingly beholden to big interest groups like the Koch network and the NRA), the electoral brick wall that should meet this unstoppable force has not yet materialized. If anything, they’re getting bolder.
But the bright side is that all of these ethically challenged, right-wing dummies have dug their own political graves. Words like “federal indictment” or “massive incompetence” rarely come up in connection to credible presidential contenders, which might explain why Republicans are swinging towards former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He’s been out of office for eight years, putting the kind of distance between him and his actual record of governance that today’s crop of GOP governors desperately need.