New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal did more than just expose serious wrongdoing in the governor’s office; it also opened the door to a rash other Christie controversies.
In some instances, scandals came to light after – and largely because of – the revelations about Fort Lee and the George Washington Bridge. Allegations from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (D), for example, about Christie administration officials connecting post-Sandy aid to a private development deal were unknown before the bridge story, in part because the mayor didn’t think anyone would believe her. Once the public learned what Team Christie was capable of – the governor has apologized for his aides’ misconduct – Zimmer hoped her accusations would get a fairer hearing.
But some controversies unfolded long before Fort Lee became the center of a national firestorm, and are suddenly getting a second look in light of recent revelations. The editorial board of the Star-Ledger, for example, highlighted another simmering matter over the weekend.
[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. A judge even ordered the release of the transcripts – yet still, the state is refusing to comply. It has filed a torrent of briefs in an effort to suppress the grand jury record, and will continue this fight at a hearing Tuesday.
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 believes the accusations are serious enough to warrant a broader investigation: “What we need is a state legislative committee, the U.S. Attorney’s Office or a specially appointed prosecutor to get involved and issue subpoenas. Dow must be compelled to answer questions under oath, and the grand jury transcripts and other investigative materials must be turned over immediately.”
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