A county assistant prosecutor in New Jersey who claims he was fired to cover up the corrupt dealings of the Christie Administration was granted access yesterday to secret state documents that he says will help prove his case. It is a major step towards justice in a little-reported scandal in which New Jersey’s notoriously corrupt Republican governor and longshot presidential hopeful, Chris Christie, seems to have thrown out a court indictment of a minor county official who was a major donor by taking over the County court system and shutting down the case. When several local prosecutors protested, one of them, Ben Barlyn, was fired for taking the case public. He then filed a lawsuit alleging that the indictment was killed for political reasons, a suit that has been bogged down in the court system for years until the break yesterday.
The original case, in exurban Hunterdon County, seemed like run-of-the-mill Jersey corruption: in 2011 the local sheriff, Deborah Trout, was accused of hiring officers without conducting background checks, forcing employees to sign an oath of loyalty, manufacturing fake police badges for a prominent Christie donor, and threatening several political opponents. When the malfeasance came to light, Mrs. Trout was indicted on 43 counts, ranging from corruption to misuse of power.
Soon, however, the case was transformed from yet another case of small-scale corruption to a major cover-up meant to protect powerful cronies of Mr. Christie. On the day the grand jury indictment was released, the Christie administration, without any explanation, established state control over the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office. Then, the Christie-appointed attorney general Paula T. Dow, told the local judge, without any further elaboration, that the indictment was “fatally flawed and riddled with errors” and had the case thrown out. To make matters even worse, the attorney general’s office then took all of the grand jury records to a State vault in Trenton and has waged a long legal battle with Mr. Barlyn to keep them secret. It was at this point that Mr. Barlyn and his colleagues spoke out against the politically-motivated quashing of the indictment, which of course led to his firing to complete the cover-up.
This is certainly not the first time Christie has overreached his power for petty, childish, corrupt reasons – he notoriously ordered subordinates to shut down entrance ramps to the busy George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee to “punish” the Democratic mayor of the town for not supporting his gubernatorial campaign – but the question remains: what made this county sheriff worth a tyrannical executive overreach on the part of the governor? The answer, as is so often the case in the Citizens United era, is campaign donations.
First of all, Mrs. Trout was at the time serving as head of the Sheriff’s Association of New Jersey, a powerful lobby that donated significant – though unclear due to campaign finance laws – amounts to Christie’s 2010 campaign. She is also a personal friend of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who had served as the Sheriff of Monmouth County prior to being tapped as a token female for Christie’s ticket. Perhaps even more importantly, the often-unnamed “prominent Christie donor” for whom Mrs. Trout was manufacturing fake police badges, almost certainly with approval from higher-ups, was one Robert Hariri. Mr. Hariri is the chief executive of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics, an organization that donated tens of thousands to the Christie campaign and was rewarded with the chairmanship of Christie’s “Healthcare Transition Team” for his efforts. Mr. Hariri also happened to at the time be living next door to Todd Christie, the governor’s brother and one of his main sources of financing.
Ultimately then, Mr. Christie and many important figures in his organization approved, whether tacitly or directly, a wholesale political cover-up and denial of justice to the people of New Jersey all to protect two crooked cronies whose fat donations had bought them a few political favors from Mr. Christie, who has repeatedly proven his willingness to sacrifice all principles of democratic government for a dime.