By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
“Chris Christie slept here” is not a historical marker. It’s a state secret in New Jersey, according to the governor’s lawyers.
The attorney general’s office is trying to block the release of records that identify which hotels the New Jersey governor stayed while traveling on state business at taxpayers’ expense. The lodging receipts are among the documents sought by a New Jersey Watchdog reporter in a public records lawsuit against the governor’s office filed in Mercer County Superior Court.
“In the opinion of the State Police, releasing that information could put the governor’s physical safety in danger,” Deputy Attorney General Todd Wigder argued last week in a brief to Judge Mary C. Jacobson.
How could records of past trips from 2012 and 2013 possibly jeopardize Christie’s present and future safety? Well, those reasons are also secret, detailed in a hush-hush certification by Kevin Cowan, acting State Police captain.
Cowan’s statement will “reveal exactly the tactical decision-making that cause them to deem this information confidential in the first place,” wrote Wigder. “This can only be done under seal, for the court’s eyes only.”
Wigder is asking Jacobson to accept Cowan’s certification as evidence without allowing the plaintiff a chance to review it and respond. The judge tentatively is slated to consider the motion Sept. 19 in court.
Before taking office as New Jersey governor, Christie had a reputation as a high-rolling traveler when taxpayers are footing the bill.
As a U.S. Attorney, Christie was singled out by the Justice Department’s inspector general for violating travel regulations with excessive lodging expenses on two-thirds of his trips from 2007 to 2009.
For example, Christie prearranged a $236 car service for a round-trip between an airport and his $449 a night hotel, four miles apart, rather than take a taxi.
“In terms of percentage of travel, U.S. Attorney C was the U.S. Attorney who most often exceeded the government rate without adequate justification,” stated the report. Christie has acknowledged he was U.S. Attorney C.
Christie refused to be interviewed by the inspector general about his expenses, according the report.
As governor, Christie has claimed he is not bound by state travel rules. The issue arose in a lawsuit by the reporter seeking records of which “third-party” organizations — including political groups and outside interests — paid for Christie’s frequent “unofficial” trips.
State agencies are required to collect and keep documentation of who’s paying, according to Treasury Circular 12-14-OMB. Christie’s lawyers claim the rules don’t apply to governors, citing a 1979 letter to former Gov. Brendan Byrne from a state budget director.
Jacobson avoided ruling on the governor’s assertion. Instead, the judge dismissed the lawsuit, deciding the reporter’s request for the records was too broad and technically deficient. An appeal is under consideration.
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DISCLOSURE: Investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist is the plaintiff in Lagerkvist v. Office of Governor, MER-L-1504-14, filed in Mercer County Superior Court.