The Republicans were supposed to talk about how they plan to Make America Work Again last night. And I supposed Paul Ryan — and to a lesser extent Mitch McConnell, when he wasn’t being booed — presented a vision of how they think Republicans run the economy. That vision doesn’t actually resemble the protectionist big government approach Donald Trump has been running on. But given the revelation that Trump offered to let John Kasich run both domestic and foreign policy if he would be his VP candidate (Kasich was still reluctant), perhaps we should focus more on how Mike Pence wants to suffocate the economy.
Instead, as most people have focused, Republicans continued to attack Hillary (Hillary continues to attack Trump, though I suspect she will focus somewhat more on policy next week than Republicans have thus far). Many people have unpacked Chris Christie’s rabble inciting witch hunt last night, but Dan Drezner backs his review of it with some data on the risks to democracy (click through to read all of, which is worth reading).
Gov. Chris Christie’s speech garnered particular attention. It triggered similar reactions from The Weekly Standard and Vox, two outlets not known to agree on all that much.
The climax of Christie’s speech was a call-and-response with the crowd listing Clinton’s various misdeeds.
Indeed, political events in both Turkey and the United States makes one somewhat concerned about the future of democracy as a political institution. Francis Fukuyama has banged on in recent years on the problems of political decay in the advanced industrialized democracies. He’s a bit more sanguine about this election cycle than most, but the erosion of accepted norms of political behavior is an extremely disturbing trend. Donald Trump (and his campaign manager) certainlyepitomizes this contempt for such minor things as the Constitution and the rule of law:
As the cherry on the top of this worry sundae, the Journal of Democracy has just published an article by
What we find is deeply concerning. Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives. The crisis of democratic legitimacy extends across a much wider set of indicators than previously appreciated….
In theory, it is possible that, even in the seemingly consolidated democracies of North America and Western Europe, democracy may one day cease to be the “only game in town”: Citizens who once accepted democracy as the only legitimate form of government could become more open to authoritarian alternatives.
By all means, read the whole thing. As an American, I find it particularly troubling that Ronald Inglehart’s rebuttal essay says that Foa and Mounck are exaggerating because this phenomenon is limited to the United States.
Foa and Mounck’s data ends in 2010. One could argue that things have only gotten worse since then, as Christie’s show trial speech suggests. But if I have a sliver of optimism, it is that the Trump campaign is America’s moment of staring into the anti-system abyss and seeing the ugliness that would await.
I will be curious if, after this election cycle, there is a greater appreciation for the democratic institutions that have made America great for more than a century.
I’m sympathetic to the notion that democracy is becoming delegitimized here and elsewhere, and in part blame the elites who have divorced policy outcomes from democratic accountability and therefore from benefits for average voters.
But the Chris Christie witch hunt is a special case. After all, this is a former US Attorney, a former top embodiment of America’s criminal justice system (and Christie’s attack was far more irrational than that of another US Attorney, Rudy Giuliani, earlier in the night).
And he’s not just any US Attorney. He’s a US Attorney who got that role largely off his fundraising for George W Bush, even in spite of concerns about his experience. Christie was, in some ways, one of the early test cases for Karl Rove’s theory that US Attorney positions would make great launching pads for further political advancement — and it worked, to some degree. After prosecuting a bunch of Democrats in an equal opportunity political corruption state, Christie won the governorship and started abusing his power, most spectacularly with Bridgegate. He came close to winning the VP nomination with Trump (and if last night is any indication, perhaps he should have). Along the way he pioneered Deferred Prosecution Agreements, making monitor positions another piece of pork for loyal Republicans.
In other words, Christie is the personification of a Republican effort to politicize a position that — while political — had previously been treated with some respect for precedent and neutrality.
No longer. Last night, Christie broke down all remaining barriers between law enforcement and political prosecution. It was the inevitable outcome of Rove’s little project.
Like Drezner, I’m worried generally about the state of our democracy (though unlike him I think the elite have a lot to answer for letting it happen). But the Christie witch hunt is a development above and beyond that general trend.
At Salon yesterday, I pointed to the most interesting part of the GOP debate on Wednesday — the policy debate over how to deal with addiction. As I point out, one reason this debate is taking place is because New Hampshire is really struggling with heroin addiction right now. But the debate started about pot, not heroin. And even tough on crime candidates like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush struggled to spin their approach as kinder and gentler; Christie pitched his support for decriminalization as another expression of pro-life.
This was the moment, I argued, when the GOP found ways to pitch a more reasonable approach to drugs in GOP ideology (and Rand Paul deserves credit for pushing this).
Even while Christie and Bush, to differing degrees, cling to old-style War on Drug rhetoric, this campaign (and particularly the New Hampshire addiction crisis Bush mentioned) will force real debate about what combination of treatment, decriminalization, legalization, and education might provide some way out of the failed drug war. This discussion framed that dramatic policy shift in rhetoric — states rights and pro life — that Republicans can rally behind.
All this, of course, took place in the Reagan library, the shrine to the man who formally declared the now-failed War on Drugs in 1982. CNN even used his damn plane to ask candidates to project themselves into Reagan’s legacy. “Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, used the plane behind you to accomplish a great many things….How will the world look different once your Air Force One is parked in the hangar of your presidential library?” But one of the most constructive policy discussions in last night’s debate constituted a renunciation, finally, of Reagan’s legacy.
Mind you, the foreign policy and immigration stances of candidates undermines the value of this — few Republicans will give up the excuse of the War on Drugs to big foot in Latin America, no matter how counterproductive that is. And some candidates — such as Trump, who probably hasn’t exactly eschewed drugs all his life — weren’t clamoring to look soft on drugs.
All that said, amid all the talk of starting new wars in the shadow of Saint Ronnie’s plane, I was heartened by a moment that might lead toward ending one.
One of the most contentious exchanges in last night’s debate came when Megyn Kelly raised Chris Christie’s past attacks on Rand Paul for opposing the bulk dragnet.
KELLY: Alright, gentlemen, we’re gonna switch topics now and talk a bit about terror and national security.
Governor Christie. You’ve said that Senator Paul’s opposition to the NSA’s collection of phone records has made the United States weaker and more vulnerable, even going so far as to say that he should be called before Congress to answer for it if we should be hit by another terrorist attack.
Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing he bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?
CHRISTIE: Yes, I do. And I’ll tell you why: because I’m the only person on this stage who’s actually filed applications under the Patriot Act, who has gone before the federal — the Foreign Intelligence Service court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11th.
I was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001, and the world changed enormously the next day, and that happened in my state.
This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day. My own wife was two blocks from the Trade Center that day, at her office, having gone through it that morning.
Never mind that most US Attorneys don’t, themselves, go before the FISC to present cases (usually it is people from the National Security Division, though it was OIPR when Christie was US Attorney), never mind that the name of the court is the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The real doozie here is Chris Christie’s claim that he “was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001.”
On December 7, 2001 — three months after the attacks — President Bush released this notice of nomination.
The President intends to nominate Christopher J. Christie to be United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey. Christie has been a partner with Dughi, Hewitt and Palatucci of Cranford, New Jersey since 1987. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware and Seton Hall University School of Law.
Christie was confirmed quickly and started as US Attorney in January 2002.
Now, maybe Bush spoke with his big New Jersey fundraiser Chris Christie and assured him the payoff — in the form of a key appointment — would be coming. Maybe that conversation even happened on September 10.
But it is not the case that he was nominated on September 10.
I attribute this fib — like the mistakes about the name of FISC — to be bluster and debate confusion. What I find more offensive is that Andrea Mitchell, when hailing Christie’s national security credentials later in the night, literally claimed he was nominated on September 10 and started on September 12.
And there’s a far bigger subtext here.
Christie implies he was involved in the dragnet in question. He was US Attorney from January 2002 to December 2008 — so he in fact would have been in office during the two years when the phone dragnet worked through the Servic–um, Surveillance court, and four years of the Internet dragnet. But if, as he implies, he was involved in the dragnet for the entire span of his tenure — and remember, there were huge cases run out of Trenton right out of 9/11 — then he was also using the fruits of illegal wiretapping to do his job. Not Servic — um, Surveillance court authorized dragnets and wiretaps, but also illegal wiretaps.
Which may explain why he’s so invested in rebutting any questions about the legitimacy of the program.
Update: Here’s what his official biography says about his tenure as US Attorney. (h/t JH)
Christie was named U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey in 2002. As the chief federal law enforcement officer in New Jersey, earning praise from leaders in both parties and drawing national attention for his efforts in battling political corruption, corporate crime, human trafficking, gangs, terrorism and environmental polluters.
Update: In an absolutely hysterical attempt to rebut the clear fact that he was not nominated when he said he was, Christie’s people said he was informed he would be on September 10 at 4:30 (as I suggested was likely). But the rest of the explanation makes it clear they hadn’t even done a background check yet!
The intervening crisis caused by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington then delayed action on the nomination. In the interview for the book, Christie said he didn’t hear again from the White House for two weeks and that things were slowed because there were no available FBI agents to do background checks, as they had been assigned to investigating the 9/11 attacks.
It’s really difficult to say which poor response to Ebola has done more damage to the public health system in the United States. First, we had the series of unforgivable errors at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas that resulted in Thomas Duncan being sent home with Tylenol and antibiotics when he first presented with Ebola symptoms. This was followed up after he was admitted by Nina Pham and Amber Vinson coming down with the disease after they treated him. Now, we have Kaci Hickox, who treated Ebola patients in West Africa, confined to an unheated tent in a New Jersey hospital for 21 days even though she is asymptomatic and has tested negative for Ebola. Twice.
The hysteria over retracing the steps of Craig Spencer in New York City just before he developed his fever illustrates the way the US press has misled the public about when and where Ebola risk exists. Abundant evidence from this and previous Ebola outbreaks demonstrates clearly that there simply is no risk of transmission from asymptomatic patients and that transmission risk grows through the course of the infection.
We see that principle demonstrated very clearly in Duncan’s case history. See this terrific ABC timeline for relevant dates quoted below. Duncan arrived in Dallas September 20. No passengers on any of the flights he took have developed Ebola. The incubation period has elapsed, so we know that no transmission of the virus occurred during any of his flights. Duncan had symptoms on his first hospital visit on September 26 but was sent home. He was later admitted on September 28. No patients or personnel from the hospital became infected from his visit September 26. The incubation period has expired, so we know for certain that transmission did not occur for anyone near Duncan that day. Similarly, even though they were in the apartment with him for days after he developed symptoms, none of the residents of or visitors to the apartment where Duncan was staying in Dallas became infected. The incubation period for that exposure also has expired. From this timeline developed by the New York Times, it appears that Pham and Vinson treated Duncan on the day before he died, which would be at the time when the amount of virus being produced by his body was nearing its maximum.
I’m so old I remember the time, four years ago, when Democrats hated Deferred Prosecution Agreements.
Back in the days when Chris Christie, former US Attorney, was challenging Jon Corzine, once and future bankster, to be governor of New Jersey, Democrats made hay of the significant numbers of DPAs Christie signed, mostly with a series of medical device companies busted for kickbacks. After it was revealed Christie had picked his former boss, John Ashcroft, to make $52 million monitoring one of those medical device companies, it became a convenient way to show the corporatist corruption of Christie.
There was even a bit of discussion, in early 2009, about whether DPAs made banks more likely to engage in fraud because they assumed they’d get a DPA rather than a prosecution. Those discussions largely centered on the two DPAs AIG got in the mid-00s for fraudulently hiding its risk, which nevertheless didn’t prevent AIG from taking on so much risk it blew up the entire financial system. One of the monitors of those DPAs–who arguably should have but didn’t see AIG’s ongoing fraud–was a guy by the name of James Cole. He’s now the Deputy Attorney General.
One cannot ignore the spike of 38 deferred prosecution agreements in 2007, up from a mere four agreements in 2003. That proves that what was supposed to be an option to be used in rare circumstances had become the norm at the Department of Justice.
It is imperative that the Congress reign in the unmitigated power that federal prosecutors hold to serve as judge, jury and sentencer in the deferred prosecution process.
And yet I have heard very little about the two DPAs signed last week–perhaps because big corporate impunity has become such a common occurrence in the post-crash era.
First, there’s the deal Pratt & Whitney and two subsidiaries signed for evading export restrictions to help China build an attack helicopter. Effectively Pratt & Whitney laundered their production of some development helicopters–plus the military grade engine control module software to go with them–through a Canadian subsidiary. And when they finally admitted they had deliberately avoided US export restrictions on military equipment, they lied to DOJ about doing so. While they have to pay a $75 million fine, some of the charges are being deferred. And no individual has been charged with helping China get a helicopter designed to attack tanks.
So DOJ’s punishment for a defense contractor to put Chinese civil contracts ahead of US national security is a big fine, deferred prosecution, but no jail time.
Even more troubling is the Non-Prosecution Agreement signed with Barclays over its manipulation of the LIBOR rate. Effectively, during the heady bubble days, Barclays colluded to lie about the interbank lending rate to maximize its own trades; as finance was crashing and Barclays itself had to pay higher rates for credit, it lied about that to imply the bank was healthier than it was. And while between DOJ, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Britain’s Financial Services Authority, Barclays will have to pay around $475 million in fines, and while CFTC imposed the kind of mandated fixes that DOJ normally would under a DPA, Barclays is basically scot-free for colluding to lie about a rate that affects people throughout the financial system.
Matt Taibbi explains why this is so important: because when the banks said the LIBOR rate was lower than it really was, a lot of investors got a smaller return on their LIBOR-tracked investments than they otherwise would have.
A sizable chunk of the world’s adjustable-rate investment vehicles are pegged to Libor, and here we have evidence that banks were tweaking the rate downward to massage their own derivatives positions. The consequences for this boggle the mind. For instance, almost every city and town in America has investment holdings tied to Libor. If banks were artificially lowering the rates to beef up their trading profiles, that means communities all over the world were cheated out of ungodly amounts of money.
The Special Agent in Charge of the Newark FBI, Michael Ward, laid into the NYPD’s CIA-on-the-Hudson program for its spying on New Jersey’s Muslims. He raised several legitimate gripes: that the NYPD was picking and choosing the information it shared, that the NYPD wasn’t focused on centers of terrorism, that it has created distrust between the Muslim community and law enforcement.
But there is one complaint that Ward should direct closer to home: that law enforcement officers have a specific articulable basis for mapping out the location of ethnicities. (Ward’s comments in this start after 7:00–note what he says on video is slightly different from what he appears to have said later to the NJ Star-Ledger journalist.)
[The public needs to know] you’re following leads that are warranted and that you’re not out chasing anything but you have a–there’s a specific law enforcement reason behind what you’re doing, and that you use the least intrusive means possible, when available.
It’s also important that [the public] know that Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI, and law enforcement in New Jersey in general, that we take the guidelines which we’re supposed to follow very very seriously.
Mind you, I think there should be an articulable basis to map out locations of specific ethnicities.
But just as the NYPD doesn’t agree, neither does the FBI. In fact, as the ACLU’s FOIA is showing, the FBI is doing precisely the same kind of demographic mapping around the country as the NYPD is doing in NYC with their Domain Assessment program.
While the office is dawdling over releasing the unredacted copies, here’s the plan the FBI put into place for mapping out Muslims in Detroit, just as the NYPD did in NYC.
There are more than forty groups designated as terrorist organizations by the US State Department. Many of these groups originate in the Middle-East and Southeast Asia. Many of these groups also use an extreme and violent interpretation of the Muslim faith as justification for their activities. Because Michigan has large Middle-Eastern and Muslim population, it is prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment by these terrorist groups. Additionally, Sunni terrorist groups always pose a threat of attack on U.S. soil since it is the stated purpose of many of these groups. The Detroit Division Domain Team seeks to open a Type IV Domain Assessment for the purpose of collecting information and evaluating the threat posed by international terrorist groups conducting recruitment, radicalization, fund-raising, or even violent terrorist acts within the state of Michigan.
And here’s how Ward’s own office used census data to map out the Latino population in New Jersey as part of their efforts to fight the MS-13 gang (this was done in 2008, before Ward got appointed to Newark, but while Chris Christie was still US Attorney).
MS-13 is comprised of members from Central American countries, primarily El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to the 2000 Census, there are 67,320 individuals from these countries living in New Jersey. [redacted] from these countries during the time period of January. 2008 to July 2008. An analysis of Hispanic populations and [redacted] helps the Domain Team assess where [redacted] The Domain Team assesses [redacted] The Domain Team notes that New Jersey has the fifth largest Central American population in the United States. [redacted]
According to the 2000 Census, the largest Hispanic communities in New Jersey are Puerto Rico with 366,788, the Dominican Republic with 91,316, Columbia with 69,754, Mexico with 67,667, and Cuba with 55,241. In addition tthheerree are an estimated 1,265,000 African Americans living in New Jersey from which [redacted]
“He’s Ray Kelly, so what’re you gonna do? I mean, he’s all-knowing, all-seeing,” Christie said.
“And I don’t know all the details yet, but my concern is, you know, why can’t you be, you know, communicating with the people here in New Jersey, with law enforcement here in New Jersey. Are we somehow not trustworthy?” said Christie.
“This is New York Police Department. I know they think their jurisdiction is the world. Their jurisdiction is New York City. So if they’re going to leave their jurisdiction and go to investigate a case in another jurisdiction, it could be dangerous,” Christie said. “This is the way law enforcement people get hurt or killed, is when they’re not cooperating with each other, not communicating with each other.”
“I’m not saying they don’t belong in New Jersey, but tell us! Share it with the appropriate law enforcement agency,” Christie said. “My concern is this kind of obsession that the NYPD seems to have that they’re the masters of the universe.”
Then there’s the spectacle of King defending Ray Kelly as if the latter is a shrinking violet, with neither access to the press nor taste for a fight himself.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Gov. Chris Christie crossed a line when he mocked Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as “all-knowing, all-seeing” and said the NYPD’s intelligence operation in Newark may have been “born out of arrogance.”
“I just found it a real disappointment the way he was conducting himself, the way he was taking cheap shots at Ray Kelly,” King said.
Sure, aside from Booker, who seems genuinely concerned either with his actual constituents or appearing that way, this is a giant pissing contest between men defending their turf.
Part of me wonders why most of these men have reacted so strongly. Christie, after all, must have close ties to Newark’s FBI officers from his time as US Attorney. That seems to be what this dig is about:
“His main objection seems to be that he wasn’t … brought in. But the fact is that he wasn’t governor. He was U.S. attorney. And I’m not aware of any major terror plots that he ever uncovered while he was U.S. attorney in New Jersey.”
(King forgets, of course, that the NYPD didn’t find any of the major terrorist attacks since 9/11–street vendors and the FBI did.)
Part of me wonders whether Kelly, channeling J. Edgar Hoover as he increasingly seems to be doing, has some dirt on King and Schumer to make cow them like this.
But the real sick part of my personality can’t help but visualize this ending in a giant wrestling match pitting King and Schumer against Christie and Booker. In fact, I’m even thinking of taking bets.
Sorry about the abundance of brain bleach posts this morning folks–it must be the weather.
The NYDN and NYPost continue their uncritical defense of the NYPD’s spying on residents of other cities. In response to continued outrage that NYPD’s officers profiled Newark’s and Paterson’s Muslim community, the New York fearmonger papers’ response is basically a taunt that New Jersey should be grateful the NYPD has invaded their state because New Jersey can’t prevent terrorism on its own.
What is the matter with New Jersey politicians that they are raising a stink because the NYPD keeps an eye out for terrorists on their turf?
Have Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Corey Booker forgotten that 746 residents of the Garden State were killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11?
Have they forgotten that ringleader Mohammed Atta met with co-conspirators in Newark?
Have they forgotten that the van used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was rented in Jersey City?
(The NYDN, which claims to have read the profile reports on things like girls’ schools, seems to have missed that none of the profiling reports we’ve seen from the NYPD have targeted any of the kinds of NJ establishments the terrorists have used in the past.)
But as a MI resident, what I’m really amused by is the NYPD boosters’ claim that Newark is “overmatched” and “incapable.”
So why wouldn’tthe NYPD bring its unmatched skills to bear in Newark, whose overmatched police department is simply incapable of monitoring threats as they develop far out of sight?
I can remember only one police department in recent years which has been “overmatched.” And that’s the NYPD, when faced with the prospect of hosting a terrorist trial in Manhattan.
When DOJ first announced plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 plotters in New York, Ray Kelly started making the same kind of complaints about not being consulted as New Jersey’s politicians are making now.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said the Justice Department did not consult the city officials before deciding to send Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others to New York City for trial.
“There was no consultation, no consultation with the police department. That decision was made. We were informed,” Kelly said Tuesday.
When asked if the NYPD should have been asked about security and other considerations in advance of sending the accused terrorist to the scene of the attack, Kelly said,” The fact is we weren’t asked. And we will make the best of a situation. We weren’t.”
At first Kelly said the NYPD would be up to the task. But then he started rolling out a plan to effectively militarize lower Manhattan and demanded first $90 million then $200 million to pay for his war zone. Ultimately, the DOJ gave up the plan for a civilian trial.
Because Ray Kelly wasn’t up to the task of hosting a terrorist trial, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has had at least two years added to his life.
As Spencer reports, former Attorney General John Ashcroft just got named the-Company-formerly-known-as-Blackwater’s ethics chief.
The consortium in charge of restructuring the world’s most infamous private security firm just added a new chief in charge of keeping the company on the straight and narrow. Yes, John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, is now an “independent director” of Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater.
Ashcroft will head Xe’s new “subcommittee on governance,” its backers announced early Wednesday in a statement, an entity designed to “maximize governance, compliance and accountability” and “promote the highest degrees of ethics and professionalism within the private security industry.”
And while Spencer catalogs many of the reasons this is absurd…
To some, Ashcroft will be forever known as the face of Bush-era counterterrorism, the official who vigorously defended the Patriot Act’s sweeping surveillance powers; told civil libertarians that their dissents “only aid terrorists“; and covered up the Spirit of Justice’s boob.
He misses one of Ashcroft’s key ethical highlights: how he benefited from close ties to his former subordinate Chris Christie when he won a tens of million dollar contract to monitor a medical device company after it signed a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with Christie.
Are federal prosecutors using corporate crime prosecutions to reward cronies?
That seems to be the case in New Jersey, where U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie appointed his ex-boss, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, to be the corporate monitor of a company involved in a $311 million deferred prosecution agreement (pdf) with Christie’s office. The company in question, Zimmer Holdings, along with several other medical equipment manufacturers, was accused of paying kickbacks to get doctors to use their artificial hip and knee reconstruction and replacement products.
Ashcroft’s consulting firm, the Ashcroft Group LLC, will earn between $29 million and $52 million (paid by Zimmer Holdings) to serve as a corporate watchdog for 18 months. It will oversee Zimmer Holdings, making sure it does not engage in misconduct and helping it adopt corporate reforms. As head of the Department of Justice, Ashcroft was Christie’s boss from 2002 to 2005. Christie also served on an advisory panel that consulted regularly with the Attorney General.
Effectively, DPAs under Christie were a means of privatizing justice; Christie even justified limiting fines by pointing to the huge contracting fees his former DOJ buddies would get for monitoring the deal.
And so it’s utterly appropriate that Ashcroft would head to the poster child for everything wrong with privatization to make sure it complies with some kind of ethics.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in one of his first major acts in office, killed the NJ-NY Hudson River Tunnel Project that had already been agreed to and would have brought much needed transportation congestion relief as well as billions in long term Federal construction spending, and related job creation, for his state. Christie said New Jersey could not afford to participate. As a result of Christie’s breach of the agreement and withdrawal, the Federal government, via the FTA, formally noticed demand for losses and expenses in the amount of $271 million dollars that resulted.
Christie, of course, doesn’t want to honor the government’s loss claim any more than he does the tunnel agreement. So Christie has hired the ultra high dollar white shoe Washington DC power law firm Patton Boggs to fight the claim:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has hired a law firm to challenge a $271 million tab the federal government says the state owes for the canceled ARC rail tunnel. Christie says he’s approved the selection of the high-powered Washington, D.C. firm of Patton Boggs.
A Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak defended the hire, saying “We’re much better off using a firm like this than using our own in-house attorneys or attorneys general. Not to knock their expertise, but let’s face it, that’s what these attorneys [at Patton Boggs] do for a living.”
Drewniak said the firm would be charging $485 an hour. He wasn’t sure where the money to pay that rate would come from — only that it would be found. “There are always contingencies for every agency of government for conducting legal affairs,” he said. “Everybody has to budget money.”
Patton Boggs is listed by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit group that tracks influence in Washington, as the nation’s top lobbyist over the last twelve years, with about $400 million in billings since 1998. Its clients include Walmart, several health-care related companies and local governments.
Only $485.00/hr. for a high powered firm like Patton Boggs, the kind of firm where senior level counsel regularly charge $800-$1,000 an hour, looks pretty reasonable on the surface doesn’t it? Looks like Christie actually negotiated a pretty fair deal on outside lawyers, if he is not going to use any of the hundreds of state attorneys he already has on the payroll, doesn’t it? Well, not so much.
$485 an hour for a firm like Patton Boggs means they are using “blended rate” on their RFP response. They put in an estimate that shows a small number of partner hours at $800+, and large number of low level associate and paralegal hours at much lower rates.
After they get the contract, there will be lots more partner hours billed than in the estimate. The final bill will be a multiple of the estimated bill in the RFP.
This is how big white shoe law firms, with huge and expensive overhead, compete with small firms who legitimately charge less than $500 an hour for partner time on governmental contracts. It is a scam that was invented so politicians can funnel lucrative steady contract money to big powerful supporters and the big firms can siphon money from government coffers.
In the old days, the government would set a maximum “government rate” per hour they were willing to pay, and the big firms would not touch the work. Mid sized and smaller law firms specializing in such work, manned by ex-prosecutors and other government lawyer types who still wanted to do “public good work” would open boutique firms that charged less than 1/2 the per hour rate for senior attorneys the big firms could and would get these assignments because the big firms wouldn’t take the government rate. These firms often consisted of attorneys with substantial federal agency or DOJ experience, wanting to actually do more than get rich, and gave the taxpayers a far better deal, and just as good, if not far better, results because the firm was not beholden to Washington DC masters and political and lobbying affiliations.
So, if past practice in such situations is prologue, Chris Christie’s contract with Patton Boggs is not only questionable because the State of New Jersey has plenty of capable attorneys already on its payroll, it is also far from the reasonable deal it is being pitched as.