New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been getting a lot of press for the lane closing scandal, allegations that he misused Hurricane Sandy relief funds and, more recently, for the shockingly sexist tone of his taxpayer-funded “vindication.” The common thread to all these scandals is Christie’s set of mutually beneficial relationships with Big Money and corporate-connected firms.
His recent so-called “vindication” has been heavily criticized for the sexism of its attacks on Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former chief of staff, but that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The lead lawyer in the Christie-friendly firm which handled that report has a reputation as a brutal cross examiner, not a thoughtful investigator. And his specialty isn’t compliance or internal audits. It’s the new and growing field of “crisis management,” which specializes in shutting down public criticism – often with aggressive attacks on the sources of that criticism.
That’s the firm, and the lawyer, Christie chose to conduct his “internal investigation.” As so often seems to be the case, personal loyalty and ambition seem to have trumped the public interest with Christie.
The firm which produced the report is named Gibson Dunn. As The New York Times reported, “Skeptics have zeroed in on Gibson Dunn’s close ties to Mr. Christie’s office. The firm has worked for the administration in the past, and a top partner at the firm who was involved in the internal inquiry, Debra Wong Yang, is a friend of the governor’s.”
Many observers were outraged (and perplexed) by the report’s seemingly sexist conclusion. The “vindication” stated that Bridget Kelly, Christie’s chief of staff, was so heartbroken over a recent breakup that her emotional state somehow led her to close four lanes of the George Washington Bridge. To hear Gibson Dunn tell it, traffic management hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Despite the fact that he couldn’t interview the key players in the scandal, lead attorney Randy M. Mastro defended the depth and impartiality of his inquiry, calling it “comprehensive and exhaustive.”
Who is Randy Mastro? He was Deputy Mayor for Operations under former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, of “a noun, a verb, and 9/11” fame. According to the firm’s website, “the New Yorker has described him as a “merciless litigator,” “even by the pugilistic standards of the New York bar.” Is it any wonder that the combative and “merciless” Mr. Mastro took this opportunity to attack the person who has the potential to become the most damaging witness against Christie?
Gibson Dunn’s website says that Mastro is co-chair of the firm’s crisis management group. That specialty is well known to corporate executives, who need a coordinated legal and PR response whenever there is a major “embarrassment.”
According to the Gibson Dunn website, “The right response to a crisis — whether it is a whistleblower’s surprise allegation, a significant and unexpected accounting problem, a product recall, or a government investigation — requires a cohesive team equipped to take immediate action on multiple fronts.”
“Members of this team also are experienced in developing and implementing prompt and effective media strategies to address any situation …”
Mastro’s corporate clients include Bank of New York Mellon, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield/Well Point, Chevron, Wynn, JPMorgan, GE Capital, Estee Lauder, Park Place/Caesar’s/Harrah’s, Cablevision, Dow Jones, Verizon, Home Depot, Quest Diagnostics, Bear Stearns, UBS Financial Services, Hewlett-Packard, Prudential Securities, and Lehman Brothers.
The financial institutions on that list read like a Who’s Who of scandal-ridden banks. Collectively they have paid many billions of dollars in fraud settlements.
This is the firm, and the attorney, which was paid an estimated $1 million to represent the people of New Jersey in their search for the truth. So it’s fair to ask: Was Gibson Dunn investigating a scandal – or managing a crisis for an individual client? Were they representing the taxpayers who pay them, or “taking immediate action on multiple fronts”? Were they investigating a scandal, or “implementing a prompt and effective media strategy” on behalf of the governor?
This isn’t the first time Gov. Christie has placed the people’s trust – and the people’s money – in the hands of his friends. David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the Christie confidante who resigned last week after no less than five conflict of interest allegations surfaced in the wake of the lane closing incident. Among them what’s the explosive charge that the mayor of Hoboken was threatened with the loss of Sandy funds unless she approved a development project represented by Samson’s law firm, Wolff & Samson.
And what does Wolff & Samson do? The firm’s website includes the following among its practice areas: banking & finance, regulatory affairs, securities litigation & enforcement, and white-collar criminal defense. The “securities litigation and enforcement” page reassures clients as follows: “Because we are a large and diverse firm, we are fully prepared to handle criminal law questions and issues that may arise during the course of securities and regulatory cases.“
Wolff & Samson was also selected to audit the propriety of Hurricane Sandy financial disbursements, which dovetails somewhat disturbingly with the Hoboken allegations. The selection outraged consumer advocates, since the firm represents large power utilities and is known to be close to the Christie administration.
Writing in The Nation, Lee Fang has reported extensively on Christie’s use of New Jersey pension funds to give hefty contracts to hedge funds and other financial institutions that have made major Republican campaign contributions or otherwise acted as Christie cronies. (We recently interviewed Lee about his coverage of Christie on The Zero Hour.)
The picture that emerges from all of these relationships is that of an old-fashioned political boss, doling out favors and contracts in return for loyalty and absolute allegiance. As of this writing, multiple investigations are underway. It may take a long time to get to the bottom of these interconnected stories.