Anyone who has seen Chris Christie at a press conference outside a courtroom as part of his ongoing crusade to root out corruption in New Jersey knows that his PR skills may be just as sharp and his legal expertise.
Now he finds himself playing defense since the Star-Ledger today reported that the law firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (who previously was Christie’s boss) could earn more than $52 million because Christie hand-picked the firm to serve as a federal monitor in a case involving kickbacks by manufacturers of knee and hip replacements.
But so far Christie still seems to be succeeding in managing the press.
First he washes his hands by saying he wasn’t involved in setting Ashcroft’s fee.
Next he punts to Ashcroft to respond to questions and take some of the focus off his office.
Then he put the onus for the huge payout on the company that’s being monitored. “If they’re being cooperative and timely in their compliance as required in the agreement, there’ll be much less work for the monitor to do,” he told the Associated Press.
And in the Ledger story, he labeled the $52 million figure “a real bargain” because of what he expects it to save taxpayers if the industry changes its practices as a result of the case.
He also declined to make the agreement with Ashcroft public, citing privacy concerns.
Some of his quotes are provocative, to say the least:
“I certainly don’t think it’s a problem to hire somebody who used to be your boss but no longer is. What am I getting out of this exactly? I can tell you, I’m getting nothing, except the comfort in hiring people I know I can trust to do the job.”
“I picked these five people because I have worked with them and I trust them and I know that they will approach their job in a responsible way both in terms of the fees they charge and the effort that they put in.”
Christie may well be within rights. Ashcroft’s firm may in fact be the most qualified firm to serve as a monitor in this case. And perhaps its work will someday pay for itself in savings for taxpayers.
But for an individual who has made ethics and transparency a priority in his campaign against corruption and cronyism, it is disconcerting to hear him say that one of his reasons in awarding a $52 million no-bid contract was that he knew the people involved.
This story has just broken. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few days. Will the media be aggressive in challenging Christie’s statements and attempting to unearth some of the details he’s keeping from? Or will he continue to be a Teflon public figure to whom no charge ever sticks?