Archive for the ‘Michele Brown’ Category

It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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Been meaning to chime in on this.

On Friday, January 15 before he had taken the oath of office Chris Christie announced via press release that Michele Brown would be his appointments counsel.

Brown was thrust into the spotlight at the height of the campaign when NJN News revealed that Christie had provided her with a $46,000 home mortgage  loan. Subsequent reports revealed that Christie had failed to disclose the interest payments of that loan on his financial disclosure forms. Anyway, the issue dragged out over a longer period of time that perhaps it would have because Christie maintained that it was a completely appropriate arrangement despite what critics saw as a conflict of interest. Christie was the Republican candidate for Governor and Brown was a high ranking official in the USA office for NJ. She eventually resigned from that office. ( see earlier posts )

Well, it turns out that on September 29, 2009 about a month after the loan story broke Brown took out a home equity line of credit for $40,000. As far as I can gather, this money was used to pay Christie back and get the loan off his books.

Then on December 21, Brown and her husband took out a new $370,000 first mortgage. Shortly thereafter the Home equity Line of Credit for $40,000 was canceled as of record.

So, the long and short of it is this ( in case you were wondering ): Michele Brown has officially joined the Administration but is no longer indebted to the Governor personally.

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What is the number one rule in political campaigns???

The answer: Don’t give a story legs.

In reality, I suppose the actual number one rule is ‘don’t campaign for your opponent,’ but you get the idea.

For years Christie was immune from public criticism. As the US Attorney he really didn’t have to wade into the morass of local politics. And for the most part, he got a free ride from the press. Sure, some issues came up…but the “story” was always his success rate in high profile prosecutions of public officials.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, that changed. Not only is he campaigning for Governor, but for the first time reporters had questions on issues that had not been fully explained. It began with the disclosure of the $46,000 loan to Michele Brown which struck many as peculiar if not inappropriate.

last week, a second story emerged that the Christie camp did not like. I’ll spare you details since I outlined them in an earlier post but the long and short of it is this: Christie gets pulled over in 2005 near Lambertville for speeding. There is no proper insurance identification in the car, nor is the vehicle properly registered. With him in the car were the Christie family and Michele Brown.

But here is where the details get a little murky. It has been reported that Christie was identified as the US Attorney during the stop. Although he claims not by him. One report said that Brown flashed a badge and explained to the officer who they were. But Christie said Saturday that the tow-truck operator “recognized” him.

Christie’s remarks over the weekend ( when the already diminished State House press corps is even smaller ) were the first he has made in person to reporters since the story broke last Wednesday.

Naturally, that has led to speculation about why some of the details seem elusive. Today, Christie again took questions and essentially blamed his wife for the lapses in documentation since it was her car.

Look, as I said earlier…there might not be anything to this story. But there are a couple of inconsistencies. For example, when I spoke to the prosecutor who handled the case for Lambertville he said he did not ever see the words “no deal” printed on the ticket. Well, it is clearly written there since the ticket was posted on politickernj. And normally cops write that when they have had an unpleasant encounter with a motorist.

I have also reached out the Lambertville Police Director. I was told he “wasn’t in” on Friday. And today I was told “he is no longer returning media calls.”

Now does that settle it, or does that merely make this more intriguing?

Again I go back to that rule. Christie’s absences on the trail since these stories trickled out only fuel speculation in the press that lingering questions were being avoided or not properly addressed. And when the Police Director suddenly clams up, it makes us wonder what is being hidden.

Not to say that anything is…but it just keeps seemingly innocuous stories alive.

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At 3:00 pm on Wednesday…Millenium radio’s Kevin McArdle reported that Chris Christie had been ticketed in 2005 by a police officer in lambertville after being pulled over for speeding on Route 29.

However, it wasn’t just speeding. The then US Attorney was also issued summonses for improper insurance identification  and an unregistered vehicle.

Here is where this gets ( somewhat ) interesting…according to the Christie campaign, in the car with him was his wife Mary Pat, their children and Michele Brown – the woman who resigned this week over the loan flap ( see earlier posts ).

They were all headed to Delaware for a football game…a plan that came to a  crashing halt after being pulled over. However, Christie was permitted to drive the unregistered car back to Mendham.

Is that a scandal? Not really. Unless new information becomes available. As a matter of routine but not by law, unregistered vehicles are impounded. Of course this would not be the first time a cop has let someone off the hook for an infraction. There is no upside for a police officer to deny a favor to the US Attorney…so I guess the point here is that if there is any more ‘there’ there, it’s not out.

And truth be told, as one insider familiar with the case in Lambertville put it…”the cover-up here is not worse than the crime. The crime itself was that the state’s top law enforcement guy didn’t have registration or insurance.”

That also goes to the narrative the Corzine camp has been trying to weaze about two sets of rules – one for Christie the other for everyone else. But the Christie people say this is all much ado about nothing.

In fact the Christie campaign issued a series of mock tweets on twitter which basically poked fun at the story and media’s interest in it. here are some of them:

  1. BREAKING NEWS: Christie Asked to Leave Movie Theatre for Talking on Cell Phone

  2. BREAKING NEWS: Christie Spotted Removing Tag from Mattress!

  3. BREAKING NEWS: Christie Admits to Borrowing Lunch Money in 3rd

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The news first popped up on the Star-Ledger’s website Tuesday evening. In a letter to Acting US Attorney Ralph Marra, Brown said she “does not want to be a distraction.”

Here was the statement from Republican Senator Diane Allen that came from the Christie campaign:

“Jon Corzine earned a reputation that he was willing to spend millions on negative attacks and play down and dirty in order to win. He has certainly lived up to that reputation with his most recent target – a career prosecutor who has made it her life’s work to end New Jersey’s culture of corruption.  Apparently a nearly 20 year commitment serving the public doesn’t matter to Jon Corzine if you are a means to his political end. It’s shameful that a female prosecutor who has clearly proven her talent and ability to get the job done is no longer able to do the job she has done so well for nearly two decades.”
And here is the one that came ( also from the Christie campaign ) from Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk:

As a woman who has fought for everything I’ve gotten in my career, I am outraged by Jon Corzine’s malicious and targeted attack on a career prosecutor who has worked diligently to combat corruption in our state. I would say Jon Corzine should be ashamed of going after a woman who has more than proven her talent through hard work and dedication, but that would be giving him too much credit.  It’s a sad day in New Jersey when politics has reached this new kind of low and I am disheartened that an accomplished prosecutor who proved her mettle in the courtroom time and time again has been forced to resign.”

We hadn’t heard much from any of the Republican legislators throughout this entire loan story. These statements came across at roughly 6:30 pm Tuesday night.

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Christie began the week with a conference call Monday to answer reporters’ questions. This is a tough format for the press since follow-up questions are hard to get in.

On Tuesday up in Ringwood, Christie came face to face with the press for the first time in a week. We asked a couple of lingering questions that we hadn’t had a chance to ask over these last several days regarding that $46,000 loan to Michele Brown.

Christie had said that the whole front office knew about it. Today he clarified that saying the “whole front office” is ( besides him and Brown ) Acting US Attorney Ralph Marra and District Office Security Manager Charles McKenna. He added that they are still very close and continue to “talk all the time.”

We also asked Christie if being elected Governor would prompt him to refinance the loan or seek to have it paid off to avoid the appearance of a conflict…and he responded that we’d “have to ask Michele.”

I have emailed Brown a couple of times but haven’t heard back…and was told today by the US Attorney’s spokesman that no comment would be made through them since the loan is a private matter.

Last week, Democratic LT. Governor candidate Loretta Weinberg told NJN News that if the loan does not get paid off, Brown should consider resigning. ( Again, I’d love to ask Brown to respond but she won’t call me back. )

We also asked Christie about a rumour that he was in Minnesota last year during the Republican National Convention. He responded with a terse “no.” But when asked if he was in Minnesota at all last Summer, Christie paused and said that his wife has clients there, so he has been a couple of times but does not recall what month or year. He said he would check and get back to us.

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With the disclosure that Chris Christie gave a $46,000 loan to Michele Brown an AUSA in 2007, we also learned that she lives right near him. Her home is 1.7 miles away from Christie’s, according to an NJN photographer who we sent to shoot the Mendham property.

Well, here is another interesting tidbit…according to campaign finance records, Kevin Kilcullen lives directly across the street from Christie. Kilcullen is the namesake of the law firm “Stern & Kilcullen” which secured a federal monitoring contract for the deferred prosecution agreement between UMDNJ and the US Attorney’s office. Democrats have called this a “no-bid” contract that Christie awarded to the firm of Herbert Stern whom Christie has described as a mentor and friend.

In fairness, contracts like that aren’t sent out to bid. Choosing the firm is left to the discretion of the US Attorney’s office. But the fact is that Christie did indeed send the millions of dollars in legal work to the firm of his mentor, and apparently the guy who lives across the street.

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Day 3 of the Christie loan story, and if you thought the Dems were a bit muted in their initial response – well, that has changed.

Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell called for a federal investigation of Christie.

DSC Chair Joe Cryan filed an ELEC compliant against Christie for his nascent April mis-filing which did not declare the 5.5% interest as income

Tom Shea from the Corzine campaign asked again for travel records and other information related to Michele Brown’s tenure within the US Attorney’s office. The campaign actually filed a FOIA request several months ago.

And Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Loretta Weinberg asked how it was possible that Christie took out a $46,000 lien on Brown’s property and received $500 checks each month but somehow failed to disclose it.

It’s an interesting strategy on the part of the Dems. They let the story build for a coupla days  – merely holding their fire. But today as some of the papers backed off they “unleashed hell” just like Russel Crowe said in that scene in “Gladiator” when the solders release the fire-tipped arrows in unison.

For his part, Christie stayed away from reporters. We were told by the campaign that there would be no availability today. Although apparently, the Star-Ledger’s Josh Margolin did manage to get a question answered about the latest unemployment figures which show NJ going up last month to 9.3%.

I suppose if I were in charge of the Christie campaign I would also keep him out of the news in the hopes of snuffing out the fire, but there are still some lingering questions and he will have to face reporters eventually. For example, would he refinance the loan or do something to wrap it up quickly if he were elected Governor? The campaign said today that Christie was “pretty clear” that he doesn’t see a conflict yesterday when he did candidly answer a barrage of reporter questions. But what changes if you win? That is the $46,000 ( hehe ) question, and it wasn’t specifically answered yesterday or today.

We are also trying to find out what exactly Christie’s relationship is with Mike Guadagno. the husband of Kim who is Christie’s running mate. Christie and Gudagno-the-man overlapped at the US Attorney’s office. Mike Gudagno is now a judge. Was their parting of ways amicable?

So where does the story go from here? Well, there was certainly a fair amount of Democratic piling on today, which I suppose is inevitable when the Christie campaign refuses to talk and the Dems have majorities in both houses with control of the Guv’s office. There is probably no shortage of “new developments” that the Dems can leak to ( what is left of ) the local media over the next several days. We’ll just have to see what sticks.

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Here is story…without comment. Latest blog post is just below.

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I will assume you have seen this story, since it is now everywhere. Proudly broken by us here at NJN News, by the way.

Rather than rehash some of the details that have been widely disseminated, lemme try and point out a few things that have not.

Unlike Corzine’s loans ( yes, there have been a few ) Christie’s loan to a ( then ) subordinate in the US Attorney’s office was to be paid back with interest. In this case 5.5%. That is below market since in October of 2007 the average rate on a 30-year fixed was roughly 6.3%. Christie says the 5.5% seemed like a fair rate, and it sounds like it certainly was ( for Michele Brown at least ). But here are a couple of questions…

If this was truly an altruistic gesture for a friend, why charge interest at all??? And why wasn’t it refinanced when rates dropped after that unprecedented market dislocation began last Fall. Certainly they could have found a bank that would have offered a lower rate and would have allowed Christie to be paid off…thus avoiding any unpleasant entanglements should said protaganist feel the need to throw his hat into the ring for Governor of NJ. Christie says he simply “hadn’t thought about it.”

Well, it sounds like he didn’t think much about this since he didn’t seem to anticipate it going public and also failed to disclose the interest as income on federal disclosure forms, an ELEC report or his tax return from 2007. His 2008 return has an extension and has yet to be filed.

There is also this lingering question about who in the office knew what and when. Christie says Ralph Marra, the Acting US Attorney knew about it, as did the “whole front office.” Well didn’t someone question the wisdom of this? I mean aren’t these people supposed to be the cleanest and most ethical people in NJ???? We have now determined that Christie was thinking about a run for Governor as early as 2006 when he spoke to Karl Rove on the phone. Christie also says the question came up so many times during his tenure that he once needed to issue a press release denying that he was planning to run.

A spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office said they won’t have any further comment since they like to keep the office separate from the “political season.” Well, that seems like a wise idea…but then why does everyone in the front office know about this financial arrangement between the now Republican Gubernatorial Candidate and Michele Brown? If this loan was made purely as an act of friendship ( as Christie claims ) it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business. And if all these people in the office knew about it, why wasn’t it properly disclosed?

Finally, Christie promoted Brown twice…once before the loan and once afterwards. We have heard some grumbling complaints about favorable treatment toward Brown in the office, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for anyone to go public.

Someone very close to Christie told me that last night that Christie was a “nervous wreck.” I wonder why.

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