The Justice Department under President Obama may be unwilling to investigate the New Black Panthers, but it’s apparently intent on scrutinizing that other menace to society – New Jersey’s upstart Republican governor Chris Christie.
This month, the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report purporting to show that Christie, who has built up a reputation as a spending-slashing fiscal conservative by taking on New Jersey’s bloated public sector, routinely overcharged the government for hotel stays while in his former job as a U.S. Attorney. Christie exceeded the government’s set rate for travel expenses on 14 of 15 trips, according to the report; on nine of those trips, his “lodging costs exceeded the government rate by more than $100 per night.” These costs, which went over the government rate by between $19 and $242 a night, ultimately totaled $2,176.
The charges are not new. They initially surfaced during Christie’s election fight last fall against Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, who seized on news reports about Christie’s hotel expenses suggest that he was out of touch with average Americans and lived by his own rules. (Never mind that with a net worth estimated at as $300 million, Corzine himself was hardly the obvious model for an everyman.) At the time, Christie parried the charges by pointing out, reasonably enough, that with just a few rooms offered at the government rate at every hotel, staying within the set government rate was not always possibility. Nevertheless, he explained that he tried to stay at a cheaper hotel whenever that was an option. Whatever view one takes of that particular controversy – and New Jersey’s voters registered their opinion clearly when they voted Christie into office – there is nothing revelatory in the Justice Department’s audit.
Why then is the Justice Department suddenly so concerned with the dated travel expenses of New Jersey’s governor? It can hardly reflect a broader instinct for austerity on the part of the Obama administration. This after all is a president who has presided over a massive spending spree in his first two years in office, spiking the national debt by more than $3 trillion. What’s $2,000 in travel costs, assuming they really are unjustified, next to the government’s two-year spending binge?
But to ask the question is to miss the point. On President Obama’s watch, the priorities of the Justice Department seem to be dictated more by politics than merit. Thus, in 2009 the department famously dropped a clear-cut case of voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party. Yet the department is bent on pursuing a long-settled, and far more trivial matter, against a popular Republican governor.
And not just a Republican, but a fiscal conservative. In his inaugural year in office, Christie has become a paladin for New Jersey’s overtaxed voters. He has vetoed tax increases, cut spending, taken on the powerful public sector unions, and made it clear that the country’s third most indebted state no longer can afford the combination of massive borrowing and spending that has brought it to its current mess. Just last month, Christie scrapped a long-stalled rail tunnel project that would have saddled state residents with billions in cost overruns – a project, it should be noted, that the Obama administration had championed. In so doing, he has not only remained popular in the state but he has become a national figure, sought out Republicans and the media. Despite his repeated denials of interest, his name is now routinely mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2012.
Of course, Christie has retained his critics, both in the state legislature and now, it appears, in the Obama Justice Department. After all, what better way to embarrass a rising star in the Republican ranks and to undercut his credentials as a cost-cutting friend of the taxpayer than by releasing a report that portrays him as a spendthrift on the taxpayer’s dime?
It’s hard to imagine that the Justice Department really could be that petty and politicized. But as Quinn Hillier documents in The American Spectator this month, the audit attack on Christie is symptomatic of the wider political corruption of a department that repeatedly has abused its authority to target anyone who stands in the way of President Obama’s political agenda.
Considering the staleness of the evidence in its latest report, there is certainly a basis for the suspicion that Christ Christie is just the newest name on the department’s enemies list. If that is indeed the case, it’s unlikely to be New Jersey’s combative governor who emerges looking the worse from this fight.
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