[We’ve done some additional reporting on this story today; check here for the latest.]
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) career has reached a curious stage. On the one hand, he’s gearing up for a presidential campaign. On the other hand, when we see headlines such as, “Christie’s Administration Facing New Criminal Investigation,” we have to pause to ask ourselves, “Which one of the governor’s many scandals is this about?”
Does the new criminal investigation relate to Christie’s bridge scandal? No, not that one. The Hoboken controversy? No, not that one. The pay-to-play allegations? No, not that one.
The latest developments deal with the other controversy.
The International Business Times reported that Bennett Barlyn, a former Hunterdon County prosecutor, met with federal investigators on Wednesday and was questioned about his past allegations that he was fired because wouldn’t drop a case against Christie supporter, Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout. He had brought forth a whistle blower lawsuit in 2012, while the governor has insisted he had nothing to do with Barlyn losing his job.
If this sounds familiar, there’s a good reason – we discussed in some detail about a year ago why Ben Barlyn’s allegations matter. The editorial board of the Star-Ledger highlighted what the controversy is all about a while back:
[W]e are reminded of the accusations of Ben Barlyn, a former Hunterdon County prosecutor who says he was fired because he refused to drop a case against a Christie ally. For the past year, he’s been striving to prove his story, paying through the nose for a civil lawsuit against the state while telling it to anyone who will listen.
Barlyn says that after he secured an indictment in 2010 against Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout, a Republican with political ties to Christie, he was fired and the case hastily killed by Christie’s appointed attorney general at the time, Paula Dow. The real story isn’t the mundane crimes that were alleged: hiring without proper background checks, making employees sign loyalty oaths, threatening critics and producing fake police badges for a prominent Christie donor. It’s the possible abuse of power by the administration’s head prosecutor.
Barlyn is now trying to compel the state Attorney General’s Office to release the grand jury transcripts to prove his case had legs. He’s not the only one who says so: Four grand jurors and other dismissed prosecutors have come forward to agree.
Reiterating our earlier reporting, Barlyn’s concerns pre-date the bridge scandal by years, so it’s not as if one could plausibly accuse him of trying to exploit an unrelated controversy. On the contrary, he’s been eager to tell his story, though the Christie administration has tried to stop him from speaking publicly about the grand jury proceedings.
The governor’s chief spokesperson described Barlyn’s accusations as “wild-eyed conspiracy theories,” though the governor’s office has said this before. Indeed, Team Christie dismissed the Fort Lee allegations as “crazy,” right up until the governor conceded that many of the allegations of corruption were, in fact, true.
Indeed, it’s part of the lingering problem the governor and his team will have to deal with for a while: once someone has lost credibility, it’s hard not to take his or her denials with a grain of salt.
In Barlyn’s case, we don’t know whether politics was involved with his dismissal, but the Star-Ledger argued the accusations are serious enough to warrant a broader investigation. As of this week, it appears federal investigators agree.
Postscript: In case all of this weren’t quite enough, this story about Christie’s former top guy at the Port Authority is also worth keeping an eye on: “Federal prosecutors have demanded that the Port Authority turn over records related to the personal travel of the agency’s former chairman, David Samson, as well as his relationship with Newark Liberty International Airport’s largest carrier, United Airlines, according to multiple sources, a development that opens yet another line of inquiry in what has become a sprawling criminal investigation.”
Update: The headline has been edited slightly for clarity.