How Christie's 'Bridge-gate' Scandal Helps Jeb Bush Win In 2016 (Part III)

Chris ChristieBush Family 2005 at White House 60th Anniversary WikimediaBut Jeb Bush benefits from every passing week whereby he can polish his image without announcing a candidacy. Most in the public have short memories. Many know far more about a favorite singer or sports star than even an elected president like Obama, much less a candidate. That is an ongoing theme of Presidential Puppetry, which documents the hidden histories of presidents and their enablers.

For a prospective job-seeker to a top Washington post, a secret to success is avoid front-runner status and work on stature (books, speeches, non-profit initiatives, business). Front-runners attract attacks from rivals and the media. Status as a second or third option for a job clustered among other aspirants allows the insider to express a willingness to serve if some unfortunate scandal surfaces regarding the erstwhile front-runner.

That's a longstanding formula in politics that has worked many times. President Obama's own ascendancy was enabled by sex scandals that destroyed both his primary and general election opponents in his 2004 race to win a U.S. senate seat.   

Christie and Bush Political Scandals

Let's contrast coverage of Christie and Bush, especially regarding controversies.

In general, each receives favorable coverage as a popular, big-state governor who has enough bipartisan appeal as center-right Republican to achieve front-runner status for 2016 if they should announce, as expected.

Jeb Bush, George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama at White HouseSuch profiles set them apart from most of the recent presidential 2012 and 2016 aspirants, who tend to be portrayed as cultural warriors on social issues, newcomers lacking in national stature -- or otherwise unlikely to win a nomination, much less a general election.

True, Christie is often criticized as blunt and argumentative, or else by hard-right partisans as too friendly to President Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign after Hurricane Sandy. Yet Christie won re-election in November with 60 percent of the vote. His victory was so predictable that the White House made little serious effort to rally its supporters behind the Democratic nominee, state Sen. Barbara Buono.

Somewhat similarly, many grassroots Democrats and Independents alike suspect Bush of wrongdoing in the 2000 election that enabled his brother to win the White House that year.

But Washington's elite worship success.

So, Jeb Bush has been welcome at the Obama White House, as elsewhere, in his role as a former government and public policy expert. The White House photo at right shows President Obama welcoming Jeb Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, in the Oval Office in January 2012 shortly before the annual Alfalfa Club dinner convening high-level insiders for an evening of fun and power networking. 

Christie's prospects are nose-diving because of the bridge scandal, which provides a window to his pattern of threats, reprisals and coverups.

We treat "Bridge-gate" only briefly here because it is being covered so extensively elsewhere. The Washington Post, for example, published a long report in its Jan. 11 paper edition, Documents show coverup in N.J. traffic shutdown.

Here is a video of Christie making his defense:


An appendix below to my column cites below an array of other coverage, including a new Politico survey of 15 Chris Christie Controversies You Missed. Politico focused for the most part on allegations of Christie arrogance and petty chiseling, such as his use of a state-operated helicopter for personal travel.

John AshcroftMore important and relevant to this site's mission of investigating legal issues is an item the Politico list. As U.S. attorney, Christie awarded a no-bid contract for $52 million to former Bush Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft, left. Christie arranged a sweetheart deal whereby his former boss would monitor compliance to a lawbreaking company that promised to mend its ways in part by paying Ashcroft.

The arrangement illustrates stark double standard under the law. A well-connected company can buy its way out of lawbreaking, with the money pocketed by cronies of the authorities. Meanwhile, Christie and his colleagues often ruined the lives of small fry lawbreakers.

Christie's Career

Christie has won success via the nation's increasingly politicized justice system, which we have reported as veering from its ostensible mission into a political spoils system that also enforces a double standard of justice.

In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Christie to the powerful post of U.S. attorney for New Jersey in charge of all federal criminal and civil litigation in the state.

Christie had scant special distinction for the post aside from Republican fund-raising and other party loyalty. He was  a protégé of Bush senior advisor Karl Rove. Even so, The Bush administration originally placed Christie on its purge list as it sought to ensure that those holding the top prosecution posts were “loyal Bushies” as the Justice Department's chief of staff Kyle Samson wrote Rove in preparation for the purge. 

Christie survived the unprecedented Bush mid-term firings in 2006 when the Justice Department fired nine of Christie’s 93 peers nationwide for not aggressively using their powers to help Republicans against Democrats. Christie went on to prove his loyalty to the GOP hierarchy and advance his image as a corruption-fighter. He initiated a sting code-named "Bid Rig III" that relied heavily on con man Solomon Dwek to inveigle targeted politicians, rabbis and others into indictable crimes. Dwek had committed a $50 million bank fraud and operated a brothel. Therefore, Dwek faced a long prison sentence when Christie hired him on lavish terms to offer bribes to politicians and rabbis suspected of money laundering. Christie put the sting in place before resigning in December 2008 near the end of Bush's second term.

Our Justice Integrity Project documented the story in many columns, such as Christie's Corruption Case Shows Horrid Legacy of 'Loyal Bushies,' Cover-ups. The gist:
Ralph MarraThe DOJ funded Dwek with hundreds of thousands of dollars to help obtain indictments, with almost all of the political indictments against Democrats of relatively small stature and from urban counties. Dwek, son of a rabbi, also earned five-figure monthly living expenses of up to $12,000 per month by helping prosecutors win convictions, primarily by guilty pleas. The Obama administration moved slowly to staff the Justice Department with Democratic leadership in New Jersey, as elsewhere, in part because of Republican obstruction on appointments.

So, New Jersey's office was run by Interim U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra, right, a Christie appointee and loyalist. Marra's team included prosecutor Michele Brown, another hand-picked Christie loyalist who helped maximize news coverage of the Bid Rig III indictments during a period when her former boss, Christie, had loaned her $46,000.

Christie's handpicked successors in the supposedly politically neutral and Democratically controlled U.S. attorney's office timed the Bid Rig III indictments for maximum impact in mid-2009. That timing enhanced Christie's reputation as a corruption-fighter at a key juncture in his gubernatorial race against incumbent New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat.

All but one of the political targets were Democrats, primarily from Democratic strongholds near the Hudson River.

Christie swept to victory over Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs executive involved separately in financial scandals both before and after the election. Weinberg, the state senator whose district includes Fort Lee, was the candidate for lieutenant governor on the Corzine ticket.

Most Bid Rig III defendants pled guilty in the face of the evidence and the overwhelming power of the federal government in such cases. But several defendants won remarkable acquittals or other victories that showed disturbing tactics by Christie, his team, his superiors, and their successors in the Obama administration.

Especially dramatic was the fight by former Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo, who denied charges that he had agreed to take a $20,000 bribe.

Manzo also showed that he had been indicted under a law aimed at elected officials, not candidates. Christie's successors, including those named by the Obama administration, fought Manzo tooth-and-nail for years even thought  federal prosecutors -- supposedly an elite, trained group with enormous financial resources and committed to justice -- might be expected to know the difference between a candidate and an elected official under the Hobbs Act, a law that had been on the books for many years.

Manzo told me that the prosecution had destroyed his career, savings, and good name. Manzo devoted himself to his defense. Among his findings were that more than a dozen Christie staffers in the U.S. attorney's office, including Marra and Brown (shown below at right), took jobs as Christie gubernatorial appointees.

Fishman, Paul Fishmanleft, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey under the Obama administration, consistently fought to defend the Christie-Marra prosecutions, including the lavish spending for the con man Dwek, whose crimes dwarfed most of those prosecuted by federal authorities.

Michele BrownManzo and his attorney ultimately achieved vindication in the courts when an appellate court forced the Obama administration to drop the prosecution. Manzo, a Democratic former state assemblyman, has become a strong critic of both parties and is completing a book focusing especially on a case study of how Christie's corrupt practices as U.S. attorney illustrate dangers facing the public.

In sum, the Bid Rig III prosecutions previews the kind of crony loyalty at all costs later apparent in "Bridge-gate."

The story illustrates also the apathy of both the Democratic hierarchy at the Justice Department and Congress, as well as the go-along, get-along mentality of much of the media.

The Justice Integrity Project distributed many news tips and expose columns to New Jersey's congressional delegation as well as to an email list of 80 New Jersey news organizations. A few journalists occasionally wrote pieces noting shortcomings in the federal cases, most notably columnists in the Jersey City area.

But the overwhelming thrust of coverage was portrayal of Christie according to his preferred image: a corruption-fighting prosecutor battling for the common man against dishonest Democrats trying to cheat the government.

Before addressing Jeb Bush's problems and prospects, we'll provide the views of two observers rarely quoted so far on the controversies.

Manzo discounts the likelihood that Fishman's probe will create a serious problem for Christie even though Fishman is a Democrat.

Manzo, a Democrat during his political career but highly critical now of party leaders falling short of their rhetoric, said, "People forget that in the Justice Department there are no Democrats or Republicans. They protect one another." Manzo has described his book, Big Boy: Chris Christie's Appetite for Power, as five years in research and by far the most comprehensive work on Christie. The publisher, TrineDay, has scheduled publication for June 1. The book will include revelations this month on Bridge-gate.

"Christie denies everything, and is probably ecstatic that the Justice Department picked up the investigation," Manzo continued.

In fact, the Justice Department, as frequently reported by our project, has whitewashed all allegations of misconduct against prosecutors under Christie, his successors and their peers nationally implicated in the 2006 U.S. attorney purge scandal. Similarly, the Obama administration has vigorously prosecuted the major victims of the Bush political prosecutions, such as Democratic former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. He remains in prison for conduct during his 1999 to 2003 term that 113 former top prosecutors from 40 states described as non-criminal.

Sharing Manzo's confidence in Christie's staying-power are former New York City Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, both Republicans. They praised Christie following his press conference and apology.

Providing a different view is author and pundit Roger Stone. Stone boasts of his past as a political operative since the Nixon administration engaged in a variety of hardball tactics -- some would say vicious -- against Democratic opponents. In a column last week, Stone argued that Christie's hopes of a presidential run are finished because of these reasons:

Americans seek a sense of decency, balance, equilibrium and stability in their presidents. This was Ronald Reagan’s great strength. He was affable, balanced, slow to anger and never regarded his political opponents with hate. John F. Kennedy was also famously magnanimous to his political opponents, slow to anger and unfailingly easy-going. In a sense, Obama also displays this cool presidential persona. The American people do not want an angry, emotional hot-head as their President. Neither do they want a prick.

In response to this claim, some have pointed to the election of my mentor, Richard Nixon. In fact, that Nixon persona was temporarily erased in 1968 when he re-packaged himself as the “New Nixon.” Gone, we are told, was the partisan slasher of the '50s. Nixon convinced the American people that he was more introspective, relaxed and measured, and that he had had time to reflect on the great issues facing America. He was no longer the “angry young man” he had been a Vice President. Nixon skillfully used TV to look calmer, less up-tight and more confident.

"Nixon was successful in continuing to portray this image for the first three years of his presidency," Stone wrote. "It was not until the Watergate tapes revealed Nixon’s partisan, spiteful, vindictive side that Nixon lost his governing majority. While I am on record as admiring Nixon’s drive, intellect, resilience and big picture thinking, it was this rancor, this need for retribution that destroyed his presidency."

At left, Nixon is shown leaving Washington in 1974 following his resignation.

Richard Nixon farewell 1974"Even before 'Bridge-gate,'” Stone continued, "I was among those who questioned whether Christie’s 'in-your-face' persona could work outside New Jersey....Democrats have long argued that Christie is a political bully masquerading as a straight talker (Buono said Christie runs a ''paramilitary organization' on MSNBC Thursday) and that there are many more episodes of political intimidation out there."

"Are there?" Stone asked. "We all know about Christie's famous/infamous confrontations with reporters and teachers but will something new come to light that shows the sort of tactics on display in 'Bridge-gate' were closer to standard operating procedure than the exception to the rule? Every media organization in the country is currently looking into past decisions made by the Christie Administration to answer that question."

The Bush Dynasty

In this section, we touch only briefly on Jeb Bush's career and that of his famous family.

Suffice to say his disgraceful role in fixing the 2000 presidential election has been amply documented in such research as then BBC reporter Greg Palast's book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

Palast, among others, has reported that Republicans won not so much because of a few ballots with damaged "chads" or even the notorious decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a recount, but instead because the Bush administration secretly used a private data contractor to void the registrations of tens of thousands of Democratic voters shortly before the election by falsely claiming they were felons.

In my new book Presidential Puppetry I put that election theft into the context of three generations of Bush family scandals that would have difficulty withstanding a prolonged primary campaign, even among fellow Republicans.

For example, I document precisely how Bush's grandfather Prescott Bush served on Wall Street during the 1930s and until the eve of World War II as the main United States banker for Fritz Thyssen. Thyssen was the German industrialist who was the primary financier for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Prescott Bush went on to become a highly influential United States senator with few in the public aware of his family's many dark secrets, which included strong bonds between Wall Street and the defense, intelligence, oil and media sectors.Karl Rove

The Case for Bush

Some would argue that there is no way that the public would restore such a dynasty to power, especially after what happened to the economy, civil liberties and the military from from 2001 to 2009.

The better argument, however, is that Republicans have to pick someone -- and Jeb Bush is helped by the Christie scandal in the argument that a Bush is the single best candidate to unite all major wings of the party under a proven successful national name.

Part of that argument will be the remarkable fact that no Republican aside from a Bush has won the presidency since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Furthermore, Republican primary voters are not likely to focus on so much on long-hidden history so much as restoration of Republican rule.

Christie, among others, will not fade away quietly. But he is more bluster than raw power.

When crunch time occurs it is hard to believe that Christie will survive much longer than such previous pretenders to the throne as Herman Cain and Rick Perry in 2012.  Someone like Karl Rove, right, may have helped Christie in the past, for example. But Rove's own early successes came under the Bush banner, a path he is likely to follow.

For all his success, Christie has come too far, too fast. He is a very successful puppet, whereas the Bush family for generations before its recent presidencies has been near the center of Wall Street and other power cemented by such relationships as the Skull and Bones secret society bonding 15 of Yale's undergraduates each year.

The general election is another another struggle. Even there, however, stranger things have happened than a Bush victory. Just ask Al Gore.

If history is a guide a Democrat (like the Republican) will have to raise more than a billion dollars. There are many opportunities for scandal and other game-changing mischief on that path.

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Related News Coverage

Christie Administration Bridge Scandal

Washington Post, Christie’s bridge scandal and the muddled search for a GOP nominee, Dan Balz, Jan. 11, 2014. The bridge scandal that has engulfed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also brought more disruption to the already-muddled early stages of the Republican Party’s search for a 2016 presidential nominee. Republicans appear headed for the most wide-open and unpredictable nomination campaign in decades. A power struggle is underway between the party’s establishment and insurgent wings — the business elite and the populist tea party factions. No one is certain what the balance of power in the party will be when the primaries and caucuses begin. After his reelection in November, Christie became the closest thing to a genuine 2016 front-runner for the Republican nomination, at least among the party establishment and elite donors. His victory margin in a blue state and his strong numbers in the Hispanic community were interpreted as evidence that he could help Republicans capture territory that has eluded them in the past two presidential campaigns. Now, he is struggling to prove that the qualities that made him so attractive to so many Republicans — blunt talk and tough leadership — have not created a climate of fear and retribution inside his administration that may have led to the bridge scandal.

Washington Post, Documents show coverup in N.J. traffic shutdown, Philip Rucker and Aaron Blake, Jan. 10, 2014. Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenants worked furiously to hide the apparent act of political retaliation, though the documents do not directly implicate the governor. Read the documents released Friday. The Fix: 5 big unanswered questions. By our count, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answered 94(!) questions over a nearly two-hour press conference Thursday focused on his administration's push to cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee as a measure of political payback. Still, there are plenty of questions that either didn't get asked or Christie couldn't (or wouldn't) answer. Here's five.

Chris Christie as Sgt. SchultzChristian Science Monitor, Chris Christie is learning who his friends are. And his enemies, Peter Grier, Jan. 9, 2014. Gov. Chris Christie's George Washington Bridge scandal is not taking a toll, so far, on his political support among establishment Republicans or even moderates. But the 2016 presidential race is just ramping up. The George Washington Bridge scandal is a big problem for Chris Christie, obviously. It’s damaging his reputation as a take-charge administrator and has made him the subject of days of pointed political jokes. If it turns out he had any foreknowledge that his aides were creating traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., by blocking bridge access lanes, his electoral career may be dry and crumbly toast. (He says he had no idea what was happening, and there’s no hard evidence indicating otherwise.)

Washington Post, Christie apologizes for scandal, fires deputy chief of staff, ousts top political aide, Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, Jan. 9, 2014. A contrite New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized Thursday for a scandal that threatens his political future, announcing that he had fired a senior aide and banished his top campaign adviser for their roles in days of traffic jams orchestrated to punish a small-city Democratic mayor. Christie at once accepted responsibility as the state’s chief executive but also insisted he had no involvement in shutting down a pair of access lanes to the heavily trafficked George Washington Bridge over four days in early September. The Republican governor said he was “blindsided” by this week’s release of e-mails and text messages detailing his office’s role in the plot to create severe gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J. Earlier report: Christie said he was “embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my staff.” Christie said he had fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, (shown at left with David Wildstein, another Christie appointee), one of the aides apparently responsible for the closure, and has told Bill Stepien, his 2013 campaign manager, not to apply to become state party chairman or to work with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie is taking over.

North Jersey Com, Christie urges media to 'take the bat' to Senator Weinberg on pension issue, Elise Young, April 13, 2011. Governor Christie told reporters Wednesday to “take the bat” to 76-year-old Sen. Loretta Weinberg for collecting a taxpayer-funded pension while making $49,000 a year as a legislator.

OpEdNews, Christie's Corruption Case Shows Horrid Legacy of 'Loyal Bushies,' Cover-ups, Andrew Kreig, Dec. 3, 2010. The Justice Department this week resumed its massive New Jersey political corruption "Bid Rig III" case with a trial that continues the self-inflicted damage from its 2006 political purge of U.S. attorneys.

Washington Post, How damaged is Chris Christie? Dan Balz, Jan. 9, 2014. Two months after winning reelection in a landslide, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has hit the low point of his political career. Two months after being touted as the nominal frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, his prospects for claiming the White House are clouded by controversy. The fall came quickly for the brash governor. His self-made reputation for blunt talk, and his seeming enthusiasm for confrontation with anyone who disagreed with him, always has been part asset and part liability. The worry for Christie today is that the scandal over a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge ordered by his own people will tip the scales decisively in the direction of liability.

OpEdNews, Christie's Apology and Firings Are Not Good Enough, Rob Kall, Jan. 9, 2014. Chris Christie's has fired key people and apologized. That's not good enough. It's not good enough because Christie put the people who conspired to punish political opponents into power. Christie gave them the free rein and trust to operate independently. The abuses of the citizenry happened because of the decisions and judgment made by Chris Christie. He says that the behavior and language used in the emails was not acceptable. But he created the milieu. He formed the team. He set the values and guidelines. This abuse of power fulminated out of a culture of contempt and arrogance, of nastiness and meanness that did not just pop out of nowhere. Christie says he was told it was a traffic study. We don't know if he knew or not. We don't know if he is lying. It doesn't matter. Leaders are accountable. Christie says, "I delegate enormous authority to my staff... I do not manage in that kind of micro way." This is a confession of guilt. This is an acknowledgement that his style of leadership produced this shameful behavior.

Politico, 15 Chris Christie Controversies You Missed, Olivia Nuzzi, Jan. 9, 2014. The GWB scandal wasn’t the governor’s first dip in hot water. Democrats in New Jersey have been celebrating what you might call Chris Christiemas this week. When documents were released strongly suggesting that senior members of Governor Christie’s staff were behind the George Washington Bridge lane closures in Fort Lee, the Gov’s ideological opponents breathed a sigh of relief. Christie’s unrivaled political skill and, as Matt Katz outlined here in November, ability to drive a narrative of his choosing, have meant that until now,  is one that Christie has largely written himself. As one New Jersey Democratic strategist told me, “the press had basically inaugurated him already.” But Christie’s political career has been riddled with controversies big and small, most of which have been paid little attention by those outside the Garden State. And while perhaps none of these kerfuffles placed anyone in imminent danger quite like Bridgegate did, at least a few of them might have spelled the end of another, less media savvy politician’s career. 

Huffington Post, Chris Christie Denies Knowledge Of Bridge Payback Scheme, Amanda Terkel, Jan. 8, 2014. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) denied any involvement in a political payback scheme carried out by some of his top aides on Wednesday, saying the whole thing was "inappropriate and unsanctioned." The emails released Wednesday showed that Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, deliberately plotted to wreak havoc on Fort Lee, N.J., once it became clear that the borough's mayor, Democrat Mark Sokolich, wasn't going to publicly back Christie in his reelection bid.

TPM Livewire, N.J. Senate Majority Leader Says Criminal Charges May Come In Bridge Scandal, Hunter Walker, Jan. 8, 2014. New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) said Wednesday she thinks criminal charges may come in the growing scandal over last September's lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Weinberg's comments came after TPM and other news outlets obtained emails and other communications that showed one of Gov. Chris Christie's (R) closest aides was involved in the discussions of the lane closures weeks before they took place. Democrats, including Weinberg, have alleged that the closures were ordered in an effort to snarl traffic in nearby Fort Lee, N.J. in retaliation for the Democratic mayor there not endorsing Christie's reelection bid. When asked if she thought criminal charges were possible based on the new revelations, Weinberg replied: "Yes."

Huffington Post, New Jersey Lane Closures Delayed Emergency Response To 91-Year-Ol d Woman Who Later Died: Report, Mollie Reilly, Jan. 8, 2014. Emergency response teams were reportedly delayed in traffic caused by lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September, including one vehicle responding to a 91-year-old woman in cardiac arrest who later died. The lane closures and its resulting gridlock, which created major problems for New Jersey commuters, have become a political headache for Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has maintained that he had nothing to do with the decision to close the lanes. According to a letter from EMS coordinator Paul Favia to Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich obtained by the Bergen Record, at least four emergency vehicles were stuck in traffic caused by the unannounced lane closures, doubling response time in at least two of the cases.

Washington Post, Bridge scandal threatens to mar Christie’s image, Philip Rucker and Aaron Blake, Jan. 8, 2014. The forced traffic jams as apparent political payback have thrown a cloud of scandal over Chris Christie, the GOP’s leading 2016 presidential hopeful. A series of e-mails and text messages disclosed Wednesday show that a senior aide and appointees of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie forced days of traffic jams as apparent political retribution against a Democratic mayor, throwing a cloud of scandal over the Republican Party’s leading 2016 presidential hopeful.

Other Christie Scandals and Alleged Scandals

WNYC / NJPR, Mayors: Was Christie Getting Revenge on Me, Too? Sarah Gonzalez, Jan. 10, 2014. Mayors in New Jersey say they're starting to consider foul play on behalf of the Christie administration in light of the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer says she had a face to face visit with Governor Christie in the Spring, when he asked her to endorse him for re-election. She told him she would be remaining neutral. “He was quite disappointed, but I wouldn't say that he was angry. He was disappointed and said he would keep asking,” Zimmer said. "And I said, 'We can keep the conversation going but I don't expect to be changing my position.’ And I didn't.” She had applied for a Hazard Mitigation Grant to protect Hoboken from flooding. During Sandy, 80 percent of the city was under water.

Jersey Journal, Federal judge dismisses all charges against former Jersey City Assemblyman, Michaelangelo Conte, Feb. 17, 2012. A federal judge today dismissed all charges against former Jersey City Assemblyman Lou Manzo. In a stunning blow to federal prosecutors, a federal judge in Newark has dismissed all charges against former Jersey City assemblyman Lou Manzo, one of 44 people arrested in the massive corruption sweep of July 2009. In a 60-page ruling released today, Judge Jose Linares granted Manzo’s motion to dismiss all counts in his indictment. Manzo is accused of accepting more than $20,000 from a government informant, Solomon Dwek, who was posing as a developer seeking favors. Manzo, who was not an elected official at the time, but was running for mayor of Jersey City, was charged with two counts of extortion of under the Hobbs Act and two counts of violating the Travel Act, meaning he crossed state lines to commit a crime.

Jersey Journal, Political Insider: Manzo talked back to feds from beginning -- and is off the hook, Agustin C. Torres, Feb. 18, 2012. "The Ghost Who Walks" is also known in comics as "The Phantom." It could also apply to former Assemblyman Lou Manzo of Jersey City. Today, Manzo is no longer under indictment on corruption charges. When Manzo was indicted in 2009 as part of the massive FBI investigation, he said his life was over, no matter the outcome. His date of death was July 23, when he was picked up among many politicians in a nationally publicized sting that saw 44 people cuffed and marched before TV cameras and news photographers. I'll skip the heavy details of the indictments. Let's just say that in May 2010 a federal judge tossed the heart of the case out, extortion charges under the Hobbs Act, which only applies to elected officials. Manzo was running for mayor and was not an official. As far as I was concerned, the prosecution was essentially over. The U.S. Attorney's Office then tacked on two superseding indictments, two counts under the Travel Act (going to another state to plan bad things) and one count of failing to report that others were doing bad things (taking bribes). Yesterday, federal Judge Jose Linares released a 60-page opinion that dismissed the remaining charges. While the longtime Jersey City politician won, it cost him his home, insurance business and savings to defend himself -- this after he spent a ton of money running for office. During his legal battles, Manzo was unable to find even a part-time job because the issue of his indictment would pop up.

Jersey Journal, Former Jersey City pol says corruption charges against him part of effort to elect Christie governor, Michaelangelo Conte, Jan. 26, 2012. The attorney representing former Jersey City assemblyman and mayoral candidate Lou Manzo, left, argued in court today that corruption charges against Manzo are bogus and was part of a conspiracy to get Republican Gov. Chris Christie elected. John Lynch, Manzo's attorney, argued today that all charges against his client should be immediately dropped and that the probe was aimed at helping Christie get elected by embarrassing Democrats. He also noted that several assistant US attorneys who worked on the cases got state jobs after Christie was elected. Christie was US Attorney at the inception of the massive probe that resulted in charges against Manzo and numerous other Hudson County Democrats. The governor's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, today called Manzo's claims "total nonsense," and accused Manzo in a phone interview of trying to divert attention from the crimes he has been charged with. One of 46 people arrested as part of the Operation Bid Rig III sting in 2009, Manzo was accused of accepting more than $20,000 from a government informant who was posing as developer who was seeking favors.
Justice Integrity Project, Court Slaps Feds Again For Christie-Era NJ Prosecutions, Andrew Kreig, Feb. 21, 2011.  In a major setback for the U.S. Justice Department and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a federal appeals court last week dismissed federal bribery and conspiracy charges against two New Jersey Democrats targeted in a trap set by Christie. Our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project has repeatedly pointed to the 46-defendant “Bid Rig III” case as one of the nation’s most scandalous political prosecutions of recent years.

Jersey Journal, Former Jersey City council candidate argues federal prosecutors targeted her because she's a Democrat, Terrence T. McDonald, March 21, 2012. Lawyers for Lori Serrano, the Jersey City City Council candidate arrested in the 2009 corruption sweep, argue in a new court filing that Serrano’s mail-fraud indictment should be dismissed, saying the U.S. Attorney’s Office discriminated against her because she is a Democrat.Serrano, and other Operation Bid Rig III defendants, were arrested and prosecuted so Gov. Chris Christie, the former U.S. Attorney and then gubernatorial candidate, could gain an “unfair advantage” over Democrats in the 2009 state election, the March 19 motion reads.

Jersey Journal, Hudson County politicians call Gov. Christie's claim that county is out to "help themselves" outrageous, Stephanie Musat, March 17, 2012. In a 30-minute speech in a packed hall, Christie said Romney's financial and personal successes prove he can run the country and wield executive power better than anyone else in the running. Governor Chris Christie took the stage in Illinois in support of Mitt Romney's presidential bid. 

New York Times, As Escapees Stream Out, a Penal Business Thrives, A company with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie dominates New Jersey’s system of large halfway houses. There has been little state oversight, despite widespread problems, Sam Dolnick, June 16, 2012. A company with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie dominates New Jersey’s system of large halfway houses. There has been little state oversight, despite widespread problems, the New York Times found. After decades of tough criminal justice policies, states have been grappling with crowded prisons that are straining budgets. In response to those pressures, New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house.

OpEdNews, Christie's Corruption Case Shows Horrid Legacy of 'Loyal Bushies,' Cover-ups, Andrew Kreig, Dec. 3, 2010. The Justice Department this week resumed its massive New Jersey political corruption "Bid Rig III" case with a trial that continues the self-inflicted damage from its 2006 political purge of U.S. attorneys.

The Bush Dynasty

Politico, Obama hosts George H.W. and Jeb Bush at White House, Donovan Slack, Jan. 27, 2012. Unbeknownst to the press, President Obama met Friday evening with former president George H.W. Bush and his son, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in the Oval Office. White House officials did not list the meeting on the president's schedule but released a photo on Flickr. According to the photo's time stamp, the meeting occurred shortly after 5 p.m., about the time the president returned to the White House from a fundraiser. When asked what the men discussed and why it wasn't on the schedule, the White House released a statement saying, “The three men enjoyed a personal visit in the Oval Office – as they have done on previous occasions when President Bush is Washington.” The Bushes are in town to attend the exclusive Alfalfa Club dinner Saturday, an annual get-together for Washington power brokers that Obama also is scheduled to attend, according to the Associated Press. The meeting came at an interesting time politically, just one day after Obama, in an interview with ABC News, blamed predecessor George W. Bush for policies that brought on the greatest recession since the Great Depression. He also blamed him for initiating the expansion of food stamp rolls. Jeb Bush has also played a critical role in the GOP presidential primary contest in Florida -- primarily by saying he wouldn't play a role. His endorsement would have been key in the race, currently neck and neck between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, but Jeb Bush said last week that he would remain neutral. 

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Paul Craig Roberts

OpEdNews, No Jobs For Americans, Paul Craig Roberts, left, Jan. 10, 2014.The alleged recovery took a direct hit from Friday's payroll jobs report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy created 74,000 net new jobs in December. Wholesale and retail trade accounted for 70,700 of these jobs or 95.5%. It is likely that the December wholesale and retail hires were temporary for the Christmas shopping season, which doesn't seem to have been very exuberant, especially in light of Macy's decision to close five stores and lay off 2,500 employees. A job gain of 74,000, even if it is real, is about half of what is needed to keep the unemployment rate even with population growth. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate fell from 7.0% to 6.7%. Clearly, this decline in unemployment was not caused by the reported 74,000 jobs gain. The unemployment rate fell, because Americans unable to find jobs ceased looking for employment and, thereby, ceased to be counted as unemployed.

Eric CantorWashington Post, Eric Cantor and Bill de Blasio exchange fire over schools, Lyndsey Layton, Jan. 8, 2014. Calling school choice the best route out of poverty, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, right, took aim at New York City’s new mayor on Wednesday for his cooler stance toward public charter schools and warned that Republicans may hold congressional hearings on the education policies of Democrat Bill de Blasio’s administration.

FireDogLake, The CIA, Amazon, Bezos and the Washington Post: An Exchange with Executive Editor Martin Baron, Norman Solomon, Jan. 8, 2014. Washington Post’s Martin Baron says owner Jeff Bezos ‘[n]ever will be involved in our coverage of the intelligence community.” A basic principle of journalism is to acknowledge when the owner of a media outlet has a major financial relationship with the subject of coverage. We strongly urge the Washington Post to be fully candid with its readers about the fact that the newspaper’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now CIA Logogaining huge profits directly from the CIA.”  The petition includes cogent comments by many of the people who signed it. I hope that you can set aside perhaps 10 minutes on Jan. 14 or 15 for the purpose of receiving the petition and hearing a summary of its signers’ concerns.

FireDogLake, Former Top CIA Lawyer John Rizzo Hails Agency’s ‘Special Relationship’ with Hollywood Figures, Kevin Gosztola, Jan. 10, 2014. The film, Zero Dark Thirty, which dramatized the hunt for Osama bin Laden that ended in his execution by SEAL Team 6, made it apparent how valuable Hollywood could be for the CIA. Declassified memos showed the CIA valuing the film written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow because it would “help promote an appropriate portrayal of the Agency and the Bin Laden operation.” In a new book, Company Man, from former top CIA lawyer, John Rizzo, who worked in the agency for thirty-four years, he describes the attitude of the CIA toward Hollywood and why it is so valued.

Consortium News, Robert Gates' narcissistic "Duty," Melvin A. Goodman, Jan. 9, 2014. The Inside-the-Beltway acclaim bestowed on Robert Gates is perhaps the clearest evidence of the failure of Washington’s media/political elite to recognize reality and impose accountability on incompetent or corrupt government officials, a point addressed by ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman. "Since I have known Bob Gates for nearly 50 years, working with him for more than a decade; working for him for five years; and testifying against him before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1991, I believe that I have some warnings about the author as well as the leading
lights of the mainstream media, such as David Brooks of the Times" and Walter Pincus of the Post, who believe that Gates made major contributions to the national security policy of the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Washington Post, How Bob Gates’s memoir could haunt Hillary in 2016, Chris Cillizza, Jan. 7, 2014. Bob Gates might just have handed Republicans (and maybe even a Democrat or two) an issue in their potential fight to keep Hillary Rodham Clinton from the presidency in 2016. In this May 1, 2011, image released by the White House and digitally altered by the source to obscure the details of a document in front of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at right with hand covering mouth, President Barack Obama, second from left, Vice President Joe Biden, left, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, right, and members of the national security team watch an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington. When Obama first spoke of bin Laden's demise, he asked the nation to think back to the unity of Sept. 11. Now the killing of America’s most wanted is something else: a concentrated campaign weapon against Mitt Romney, even a bumper sticker message. (White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

Weather Channel, America Burning: The Yarnell Hill Tragedy, Jan. 4, 2014. "I Told Them Daddy Had an Accident' On June 30, 2013, 19 firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed battling a wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona.  Huge questions remain about the last moments of their lives. Why did they move out of a safe area in their final minutes of life? Why did the fire move so quickly? Could their deaths have been prevented? The tragedy also raises a crucial environmental issue: Has the very act of fighting wildfires made our forests more dangerous? investigates in this original documentary.