It’s been obscured, understandably, by the Kennedy news. But the story of Chris Christie’s ill-advised loan to a subordinate is only getting more interesting — and something tells us there could be another shoe to drop.
To refresh: Christie, a Republican, currently leads Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine in the New Jersey governor’s race. And he’s made his zeal as a corruption-fighter a cornerstone of his campaign. But last week, the state’s public television network reported that Christie had made a $46,000 loan to an assistant U.S. attorney, Michele Brown. The loan — given at 5.5 percent interest and secured by a second mortgage on Brown’s house — was made in 2007, while Christie was serving as U.S. attorney, and was Brown’s boss. It hardly helped that Christie was forced to admit he hadn’t included the loan in his income tax returns or on his financial disclosure reports. (See the mortgage document here — interestingly, it was duly filed with the Morris County Clerk’s office.)
Making things yet more awkward, Christie had twice promoted Brown — who the Newark Star Ledger describes as a “close friend” of the candidate — during their time together at the U.S. attorney’s office from 2002 to 2008. The first promotion occurred before the loan was made, the second — which made Brown Christie’s deputy — came after.
Then yesterday, Brown ensured the story won’t be going way any time soon by abruptly resigning from the U.S. attorney’s office, after 18 years there, saying she didn’t want to be a “distraction” to her colleagues.
The Corzine campaign, sensing it’s getting traction on the issue, has said the issue raises “serious legal and ethical questions,” and has called on Christie to release all public documents from his tenure as U.S. attorney. And one Democratic lawmaker has suggested that Brown may have tipped off Christie to the slew of public corruption arrests we told you about earlier this month. For its part, Christie’s camp has tried to turn things back on Corzine, suggesting that the governor has unfairly gone after Brown. Multiple female Republican politicians have now attacked Corzine for going after a woman in public service
But political back-and-forth aside, what to make of all this?
Christie has defended the transaction with Brown, calling it “a loan between friends”, made after Brown’s husband lost his job. “I just believe that if you have friends who are in need, that you help them,” he said. Christie has also admitted to a “mistake” in failing to disclose the loan, and has filed amended disclosures and tax returns.
But a few things don’t add up. Christie, who was a lawyer in private practice and a Morris County freeholder before going to the U.S. attorney’s office, does not appear to be so wealthy that he can casually extend a $46,000 loan. The fact is, it’s just pretty uncommon for one person to give a loan of that size to another to whom he isn’t related. And any loan from a public official to a subordinate raises questions about conflicts of interest. Add to that the fact that the loan was not listed in ethics disclosure forms, and also that Brown has now resigned.
Sounds like there’s more to this story than we’ve yet learned.