A turf war seems to have erupted between United States Attorney Christopher Christie and State law enforcement officials such as Attorney General Peter Harvey and Monmouth County Prosecutor John Kaye. One has to ask if the strife between these powerful officials is hindering the effective prosecution of corrupt public officials, or is it just another “black eye” for New Jersey.
To some degree tension has always existed between the various offices. However this tension was usually relieved by the relationships that existed between the U.S. Attorney and various State officials. There was also an unwritten rule governing the prosecution of different types of Criminal activity. As a result, a cordial relationship between these offices existed for many years which was kept alive by the movement of career law enforcement officials between the Federal and State agencies. Yet today we see that the era of civility is officially over, its end marked when new leaders with political connections, and more importantly political aspirations, assumed control of the two offices.
Christopher Christie had plenty of political connections and very limited law enforcement credentials when he was appointed. He quickly realized that to further his political ambitions he needed to be noticed, and no type of case generates publicity like political corruption. Christie sent a clear message to his office to develop corruption cases. Meanwhile on the State’s side, beginning with the appointment of Peter Veniero as Attorney General and continued with the appointment of Peter Harvey, the State Attorney General has been more concerned with protecting the Governor’s reputation than eliminating corruption.
Christie does have an advantage over the State Attorney General in that he does not have a Governor to protect, and can therefore commence corruption investigations without alienating people to whom his boss owes favors. Attorney General Harvey on the other hand has had to stand by and watch the numerous faus paux of his former boss, Jim McGreevey.
Christie has won the corruption fight hands down. He has brought case after case against public officials both enhancing his name recognition among Republican partisans and embarrassing the Democratic public officials who he has primarily targeted. The turf war has now escalated with the recent Indictments by Christie of what seems 50% of the public officials in Monmouth County. In doing so Christie has now stepped on the toes of a more formidable opponent Monmouth county Prosecutor John Kaye.
Kaye, the longest tenured county Prosecutor has long had a reputation as a hardliner on things such as drug prosecutions. In fact Kaye has developed a reputation that there is much less crime in his county because of his ruthless prosecution of one and all. Imagine his displeasure when he found out that Christie had imported from Florida an out of control cooperating witness who seemed to offer bribes to every public official he could find. The prospect of this occurring in Kaye’s County, much less without his approval caused the two principles to engage in a very public dispute. Christie claims that Kaye sabotaged the federal investigation by calling in some of the targets for questioning. Kaye claims that Christie refused to advise his office of the investigation of public officials within his county. Christie has now subpoenaed Kaye, and Kaye not only threatening to subpoena Christie, but is attempting to go over his head by appealing directly to the Justice Department with his complaints.
The bad blood between Christie and Kaye has now reached a fever pitch. Last week, The Star Ledger reported that Kaye’s support is quickly eroding. Senator John Adler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, along with Senators Tom Kean and Ellen Karcher, are all calling for Kaye’s immediate removal. Even acting Governor Richard Codey has said that he will not reappoint Kaye when his term expires in four months, and he may demand Kaye’s resignation sooner. Christie’s corruption prosecutions have scored him points with the power elite while Kaye’s twenty-two year history of writing his own rules regarding law enforcement in Monmouth County has left him isolated and targeted for removal from office.
When all is said and done, the drama playing out in New Jersey is all about politics, and the loser once again are the citizens of New Jersey.