In March 2007, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argued in Department of Injustice that partisan tactics of Bush administration prosecutors like New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie were likely to be more dangerous than the purge of nine other U.S. attorneys for political reasons.
The new book Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie illustrates that Krugman correctly identified the real scandal as the largely hidden decision-making of those retained during the Rove era as “loyal Bushies” in 94 regional U.S. attorneys offices.
Author Louis Manzo provides a riveting account of how Christie abused his prosecutor’s post to save his job — and then won two terms as governor beginning in 2009. This positioned Christie by early this year as a front-runner for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination.
We have reported extensively in recent months on Christie's presidential prospects, the bridge traffic scandal in New Jersey and on Manzo's book, which was available for shipping April 16. This is our first column tying these topics together after reading the book.
The author is a former Jersey City mayoral candidate whom Christie’s successors arrested in 2009 on corruption charges. Manzo then vindicated himself in 2012 from claims he had accepted a bribe from Solomon Dwek, a government informant Christie recruited to pose as a corrupt donor to Democrats.
Manzo, a former city health director with a talent for research, probably dooms any hope Christie may hold for future elective office. The book revelations help Republican and Democratic critics of Christie, shown below at right in a file photo.
Years ago, Krugman’s column helped prompt me to write investigative reports for the Huffington Post and elsewhere documenting dubious prosecutions around the nation by those like Christie permitted to keep their prosecutor jobs during the 2006 political purge. Later, I founded the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project to monitor such cases more systematically.
That perspective has enabled me to chronicle and assess for more than four years Manzo’s brave fight against the odds. Some 97 percent of those federally accused plead guilty, thereby giving prosecutors vast power. Once indicted, a defendant typically loses friends, job, savings — and often family, freedom and self-respect.
Manzo lost his home and savings, but persevered to win his freedom. Now he provides a devastating and rare account of the purge scandal’s consequences, most notably in showcasing what it takes for a politician (Christie in this instance) to ascend from the pack to nationwide stature.
But anyone who has served on a criminal case jury has heard the judge instruct that defendants are presumed innocent unless prosecutors prove guilt. Similarly, Drewniak and his boss cannot credibly argue that prosecutors deserve more deference than judges in determining a law’s scope. In this instance, judges repeatedly ruled in Manzo’s favor and concluded that no trial was necessary.
More generally, the book traces the impact of Christie’s record as a Bush Administration appointee. Christie, nominated in 2001, served until December 2008 before he announced his gubernatorial campaign.
His successors helped him by orchestrating the largest federal arrest in the state’s history. The so-called “Jersey Sting” in July 2009 coincided with the gubernatorial campaign season.
Christie’s prosecution-office successors — a dozen of whom he hired as governor after he won the election — assigned hundreds of federal agents to arrest Manzo and 44 other corruption suspects in headline-grabbing raids.
After the election, trial evidence showed how prosecutors staged the show.
Most shocking, prosecutors recruited as their star witness the con man Dwek (shown at left in his mug shots). He was a brothel/casino operator, and had been arrested in 2006 for trying to pass two phony $25 million checks to shore up his Ponzi scheme that had scammed more than $100 million from investors.
Instead of prosecuting Dwek in a slam-dunk $50 million bank fraud case, Christie and his team promised the defendant leniency if he helped plot the arrests of others.
Authorities wired Dwek for sound and turned a blind eye when a bankruptcy court gave him living expenses averaging $12,000 a month tax-free, which were siphoned from a fund for his scam victims. In Dwek’s role as a real estate developer, he drove a new Lexis supplied by the government. He donated more than $400,000 in federal taxpayer funds to local candidates.
Ever the entrepreneur, Dwek franchised the operation by paying other criminals huge fees to help him find local candidates who might accept donations in circumstances that could imprison them. The FBI reported that thousands of text instructions between Dwek and his FBI handlers were lost and thus unavailable for study by the defendants, as required.
All but one of the indicted political defendants were Democrats because authorities steered Dwek away from most Republicans. The arrestees included five rabbis charged with money-laundering. Their inclusion was “Hamburger Helper” to help beef up the numbers, Manzo writes.
Manzo’s concise, well-sourced narrative suggests an answer to one of the most puzzling aspects of the 2006 U.S. attorney scandal: why didn’t the Obama administration investigate partisan tactics in violation of DOJ guidelines more thoroughly and end the most dubious prosecutions?
A crackdown would have embarrassed the Justice Department and created inconvenient political problems for Obama, according to Ruthless Ambition and my previous research, such as my 2010 column for Harvard’s Nieman Watchdog.
Spokespeople for the Obama Justice Department, not surprisingly, have repeatedly asserted to me and others that they pursue the facts and enforce the law fairly in all such cases.
Half the book focuses on Christie’s governorship, and national ascendancy.
Manzo, at left, portrays Christie as a skilled politician who rose from humble roots. Christie, child of a single mother, got his political start as student body president at Delaware State University.
Bush strategist Karl Rove nicknamed Christie as “Big Boy” and assisted the prosecutor’s political ascent by introducing him in 2006 to GOP strategist Mike DuHaime.
As a former state assemblyman, Manzo provides an informed description of Team Christie’s adept and occasionally sinister strategic decisions to protect and enrich allies, enforce reprisals against opponents, and occasionally double-cross one-time GOP allies.
As examples, Manzo portrays Christie’s self-focused 2012 GOP nominating speech for Mitt Romney and Christie’s friendliness with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy as strategic payback to Romney for omitting Christie from the 2012 ticket.
These steps helped position Christie for, among other things, more control over federal aid plus increased popularity during his 2013 re-election campaign in a blue state. Also, Christie reduced the odds that a President Romney would be running for re-election in 2016.
Christie won re-election last fall with an impressive 60 percent of the vote. Christie’s successes made him the early favorite in polls for the 2016 GOP nomination.
Then emails produced via litigation revealed that Christie’s staff had intentionally created a massive tie up in Fort Lee for four days last September. Although the scandal is a serious blow to the governor and has prompted investigations, Christie has proven skills in handling previous direct threats from Democrats and the media.
My prediction is that his biggest threat will come from his own party, whose kingmakers are most comfortable with the kind of dynastic ties, family wealth and long visibility represented by Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.
As it happens, both Bush and Romney currently carry negatives from the previous Bush presidency and Romney’s 2012 defeat. But those memories will seem less important as time passes.
In the meantime, the two separately deny any plans to run for office even while they burnish their popularity as party elder statesmen by lending a helping hand as needed this year.
Each as an undeclared candidate benefits in the short run from helping Christie stay viable and overshadow potential fresh 2016 rivals in the GOP’s “center-right” space. Christie this year chairs the Republican Governors Association, which means that party leaders have the incentive to pull together to make his year a success despite the bridge-lane scandal, which is relatively trivial in harm compared to Manzo’s material.
Do we need a crystal ball?
Even the well-spoken, well-groomed and otherwise gentlemanly Bush and Romney have minions, at least a few of whom may not be above using Manzo’s book as part of their opposition research to chart Christie’s downfall at the right time.
Christie did not invent payback, ambition, or the rest of rough-and-tumble politics. Any fingerprints will look like ones from Democrats and the media.
“Big Boy” is likely to get a nudge sometime later this year from an unknown hand. It will help him star in his next role, Humpty Dumpty.
Related News Coverage
Daily Beast, Why the GOP Needs a Return to the Bush Leagues, Robert Shrum, April 22, 2014. Does anyone really believe Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, or Chris Christie can contend against Hillary Clinton? At least Jeb, the establishment’s establishmentarian, would put up a fight. The GOP may have to return to the Bush leagues. Here’s why.
Washington Post, Bob Schieffer: Romney may consider 2016 run if Jeb Bush doesn’t, Wesley Lowery, April 27, 2014. Mitt Romney has said time and time again that he has no interest in running for president a third time. But, on Sunday morning, CBS' Bob Schieffer said not to write off the idea of a 2016 campaign by Romney so quickly. "I have a source that told me that if Jeb Bush decides not to run, that Mitt Romney may actually try it again," Schieffer said. During a political panel discussion, the "Face the Nation" host said that he has been told that Romney will consider seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016 if former Florida governor Jeb Bush chooses to sit the race out.
NJ Now, 'Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie, Staff report, May 19, 2014. Former Assemblyman Lou Manzo discusses his book Ruthless Ambition.
Crooks and Liars, 'Ruthless Ambition': Former Christie Target Pens Tell-All Book, Susie Madrak, May 5, 2014. Louis Manzo spells out how then-candidate Chris Christie used his former prosecutor's office to win election. As a reporter, I used to cover suburban Philadelphia's Delaware County, a place so corrupt, it's hard to describe to outsiders because you'd sound like a paranoid loon. I had brunch yesterday with a reporter I used to work with, and mentioned I was reading this book. He laughed and said, "You know, every time I hear a story about Christie, it sounds just like Delaware County." And it does. Which is why nothing Christie does surprises me. That's why I think it's almost cute, how indignant author Louis Manzo is over the many, many abuses of power that led to his own indictment for bribery. In Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie, the former New Jersey politician rails against corruption in our justice system -- and specifically, abuses by the prosecutors Christie left behind, prosecutors who were eager to get positions in a Christie administration, he says. And well he might.
NJ.com, The Nation reports on former Assemblyman Manzo's book on Gov. Chris Christie, April 30, 2014. The writer's publicity beat goes on for ex-assemblyman Louis Manzo, a Jersey City Democrat, who turned author after being among those arrested in the massive 2009 FBI corruption sting – and had all charges dropped by a federal judge. Interest in Manzo’s book seems to be growing among members of a news media that is also on a Gov. Chris Christie watch. Yesterday, Manzo appeared on a HuffPost Live video interview and today the Internet version of the leftist periodical The Nation has an article on his book, “Rutheless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie” in the Politics section of the website, written by Bob and Barbara Dreyfus.
The Nation, A New Book Says Chris Christie Misused His Power as US Attorney, Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss, April 30, 2014. Back before Bridgegate, back before he was elected governor of New Jersey, there was other questionable behavior by Chris Christie, involving his nearly seven years as US attorney for the state. Now one of the men indicted during a corruption crackdown set into motion by US Attorney Christie—and which played out while he was running for governor in 2009, in a way that was very helpful to Christie's campaign—is getting his say. Louis Manzo, a Jersey City politician, was first indicted by the US attorney and arrested by the FBI, then cleared of all charges by a federal judge. In April, Manzo released a book detailing extensive allegations about Christie's political and law enforcement career.
Huffington Post Live, Ex-Lawmaker On Christie's 'Ruthless Ambition,' Marc Lamont Hill, April 29, 2014. In his new book, Ruthless Ambition: The Rise & Fall of Chris Christie, author and former New Jersey lawmaker Louis Manzo delves into the controversial career of the potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Hudson Reporter, ‘Innocent people were prosecuted along with the guilty,’ Al Sullivan, April 27, 2014. Lou Manzo’s book about Chris Christie alleges abuse of the justice system for political gain. Louis Manzo returned to Hudson County last month to talk about his new book on the life and times of Gov. Christopher Christie. Former Assemblyman Louis Manzo hates it when people say he “beat the rap.”
NJ.com / Jersey Journal, Letter: I need to set record straight about Christie spokesman's criticism of book, Louis Manzo, April 18, 2014. While I expected a lot of hell to be raised over the contents of my newly released book, Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie, I must respond when a government official spins an outright lie to cover for the book's listing of misdeeds by his boss. In an article concerning my book, Gov. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak -- the very same U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman for Bid Rig III -- said the following: "He [meaning me] was the beneficiary of a change in federal law, and he was never declared or found "innocent.'" Sounds pretty convincing at first blush, doesn't it? This is the perfect example of how Christie's people try to play the people and the press. Has Drewniak forgotten that the Constitution declares a defendant innocent until proven guilty? This Bridgegate grand jury witness, Drewniak, told a lie -- there was no "change in federal law." The government attempted to improperly apply the law in a way that had never been done in any federal district court, against their own guidelines warning them not to do so.
NJ.com, Letter: Book review criticism is misinformed, Andrew Kreig, April 17, 2014. The Star-Ledger's review of Ruthless Ambition is superficial and misinformed. For this important new book by former Jersey City Mayoral candidate Louis Manzo about Gov. Christie, Reviewer Josh McMahon evaluated Christie and the justice system through pro-prosecution, rose-colored glasses. The reviewer's suggestion that serious injustices cannot occur without revelation contradicts my decades of experience as a reporter, attorney and author, including four years of intensive research into the prosecution of Manzo, other Bid Rig III defendants in New Jersey, and similar cases nationwide. My non-partisan Justice Integrity Project, like many other researchers, has identified many abusive practices in the nation’s courts sustained by both political parties and prosecutors.
Chris Christie Initiatives
Daily Beast, Now Chris Christie’s Pushing Prison Reform, Too, Olivia Nuzzi, April 17, 2014. At a bipartisan event in Jersey City, the governor tried claim his share of Republican leadership on what the GOP hopes will be a defining conservative issue come 2016. Riding high on word that according to a Fox News poll he is leading the 2016 Republican field, embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrived in Jersey City Thursday to deliver a message to the GOP about prison reform: “You need to be pro-life after they get out of the womb.” Christie, sitting opposite former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, used the event to combine his pro-life views with his progressive stance on incarceration, which mirror those of prominent conservatives across the country. Prison reform is an issue that is gaining momentum on the right, and as Grover Norquist told The Daily Beast last week, “by the time we get to the caucuses, every single Republican running for president will be versed on this… [prison reform] will become a consensus issue within the center-right.” Christie seems to be positioning himself to be a leader on prison reform. The issue has the benefit of—besides being attractive to both fiscal and social conservatives—being one that Republicans and Democrats tend to work together on, which adds credibility to the image of bipartisan pragmatist that Christie has been trying to craft in Trenton.
Chris Christie As U.S. Attorney
Daily Beast, Did Christie Go Easy on a Human Trafficker Just to Bust a Small-Time Pol? March 17, 2014. Chris Christie built his reputation as a crime-fighter. So why did he cut a deal with an accused sex slave ringleader—and send to jail a Democratic mayor, instead?
Hudson County TV.com, Ex-Secaucus Mayor’s daughter suing Governor Christie’s office, Alexis Serringer, March 18, 2014. The daughter of jailed former Secaucus mayor Dennis Elwell has sued the office of New Jersey governor Chris Christie under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act to obtain potentially explosive “color coded” dossiers on the mayors, their political allies and opponents in at least 100 towns across the state. Alexis Serringer, the daughter of former Mayor Elwell, filed suit Monday in New Jersey State Superior Court, Mercer County. The lawsuit, filed by noted New York investigative lawyer Eric Dixon, is available at docket number L-00563-14 and captioned as Serringer v. Office of the Governor of the State of New Jersey. The dossiers, whose existence was first reported by the New York Times on January 29, 2014, were allegedly maintained by the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs within the Governor’s Office.
New York Post, Stoolie is 'Dead' To His Daddy, Kate Sheehy, July 28, 2009. A lot of people might like to wring his neck, but the sleazy real-estate mogul who ratted out everyone from politicians to rabbis in a massive corruption case is apparently already as good as dead to his father. Israel Dwek — the father of Solomon “Shlomo” Dwek, who helped the feds nail three New Jersey mayors and several rabbis in Brooklyn last week — plans to sit shiva for his son because he is so disgusted with his turning on other Jews, reported the Web site PolitickerNJ.com. Shiva is the traditional Jewish mourning period held after a family member dies. The father — citing “the Talmudic Law of Moser that prohibits a Jew from informing on another Jew to a non-Jew” — renounced his son from the pulpit at his synagogue in Deal, NJ, on Saturday, the site said.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
Washington Post, Pro-Russian activists defy accord, maintain grip in eastern Ukraine, William Booth and Anthony Faiola, April 18, 2014. Militants say they will pull back if Ukrainian forces also withdraw.
NBC News, Russia-Ukraine Deal Faces Plenty of Obstacles, Erin McClam, April 18, 2014. The diplomats have a deal on Ukraine. Whether it sticks is very much in doubt. Pro-Russian separatists in turbulent eastern Ukraine said Friday that they are not bound by any deal, and will not lay down their guns and vacate public buildings — two critical requirements — until the Ukrainian government steps down. Russia lashed out at the United States for attaching an ultimatum, a matter of days, to the diplomatic agreement. And it remained unclear what level of influence Russia had to call the separatists off.
Washington Post, Edward Snowden defends question to Putin on spying, calls response 'evasive,' William Branigin, April 18, 2014. The fugitive NSA leaker expresses incredulity at the Russian leader's denial of mass surveillance.
Washington Post, Agreement reached in Geneva talks on defusing Ukraine crisis, Karen DeYoung, April 17, 2014. Top diplomats meeting here on the Ukraine crisis Thursday agreed that all parties, including separatists and their Russian backers, would refrain from “violence, intimidation, or provocative actions” and that all “illegal armed groups will be disarmed.” The apparent breakthrough, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to as “a compromise, of sorts,” came after more than six hours of meetings among Lavrov, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Popular Resistance, Peace and Justice Movement Loses A Long-Time Advocate, John Judge, David Swanson, April 16, 2014. Our society has lost a great activist today with the death of John Judge. No one spoke more clearly, strongly, and informedly on political power, militarism, and activism for positive change. While John lived nextdoor to Dennis Kucinich — and with one of the best views and one of the best collections of political books and documents — in Washington, D.C., it was as staff person for Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney that he advanced numerous causes of peace and justice and accountability for the powerful on Capitol Hill. John’s expertise reached back into history and across continents. From the Kennedy assassination to conscientious objection to how-a-bill-becomes-a-law, he was a person to turn to for information and wisdom who was never anything but helpful, friendly, cheerful, and energetic. He will be missed.
Family Obituary (Excerpt). John Patrick Judge passed at the age of 66, just as he had lived – with courage in the midst of pain. An internationally acclaimed researcher, writer and speaker, as well as a lifelong anti-militarist anti-racist activist, and community organizer, Judge died on April 15 due to complications from a stroke suffered in early March. Judge’s primary areas of research were the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as totally unique research which he conducted on-the-ground about the massacre in Jonestown, Guyana. He is a co-founder of the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA), and organized COPA's annual conference in Dallas. The 2013 COPA conference drew more than 300 researchers and activists to Dallas on the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy’s death. At the time of his death, John Judge was working on creation of a Hidden History Museum and Research Center in Washington, DC, to educate a new generation about covert operations, and to support the work of investigative journalists and researchers looking into the National Security State and the rise of secrecy, government plans for extra-Constitutional jurisdiction during emergencies, and threats to civil liberties and international relations. Some of his writings can be found at judgeforyourself.org. John Judge is survived by his long-time companion and life partner, Marilyn Tenenoff and thousands of friends and admirers across the country and around the world. A celebration of his life will be held in late May. In lieu of flowers, tax-deductible donations can be made to support the preservation of Judge's books and archives in a new Museum of Hidden History, P.O. Box 772, Washington, DC, 20044.
WAFF-TV, Appeals court grants former Alabama Governor hearing, Amanda Jarrett and Stephen Gallien, April 18, 2014. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear an appeal filed by former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Court officials say the hearing is tentatively scheduled for the week of July 28. Siegelman is serving a 78 month sentence for bribery, conspiracy and other charges. He's currently at Oakdale Federal Detention Center in Oakdale, Louisiana. Court documents filed in the Middle District of Alabama detail records needed for this appeal. Those records include nine volumes of pleadings, 113 volumes of transcripts, and three sealed boxes/exhibits. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is located in Atlanta.