New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration is the target of a new federal probe stemming from accusations that the governor's office overturned grand jury indictments against his allies, International Business Times' David Sirota reports.
Bennett Barlyn, a former employee of the Hunterdon County prosecutor's office, told International Business Times that two Department of Justice investigators interviewed him about the case yesterday. Barlyn's employment was terminated in August 2010, in what he alleges was retaliation for his objection to the overturning of the indictments. According to Barlyn, the Justice Department investigators homed in on former Christie administration Attorney General Paula Dow's actions in the cases during yesterday's interview.
Sirota details the background:
The case centers on exurban/rural Hunterdon County, in western New Jersey along the Delaware River. There, Barlyn claims, then-county Sheriff Deborah Trout ran her office like a private fiefdom, hiring her friends without respect to their experience, and without initiating proper background checks as mandated by state law.
Barlyn’s office began probing Trout in 2008, eventually convening a grand jury that returned 43 indictments against her, Undersheriff Michael Russo and investigator John Falat Jr. The Christie administration then intervened, took over the prosecution and -- in an extraordinary step -- moved to have the grand jury indictments overturned, saying they were legally and factually deficient. When Barlyn raised objections, he was fired.
The expunging of those indictments, Barlyn's termination and his allegations that Christie’s administration quashed the case to protect the governor’s supporters were first aired in a lengthy story in the New York Times in 2013. Several members of the grand jury told the Times that the evidence supporting the indictments was strong, and that overturning them seemed motivated by political considerations.
In a subsequent whistleblower suit, Barlyn claimed that Trout, Russo, and Falat received favorable treatment from Christie's administration due to their public support for his 2009 gubernatorial campaign.
The reported probe into the matter represents another setback for Christie, whose heavy-handed tactics are coming under increased scrutiny ahead of his expected campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Christie's administration -- already the focus of a federal criminal investigation into politically motivated lane closures in the 2013 Bridgegate scandal -- has gained a reputation for secrecy and political intimidation. Mother Jones reported yesterday that Christie's office is currently embroiled in 23 court battles to prevent the release of state documents on such matters as Bridgegate, pay-to-play accusations, potential ethics abuses, and the governor's out-of-state travel.