By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is refusing to release nearly $800,000 in American Express credit card bills for the travel costs of his state police security detail.
The governor’s staff rejected a New Jersey Watchdog reporter’s request for the monthly statements, contending releasing the records would jeopardize Christie’s safety.
The denial follows a New Jersey Watchdog report last week revealing the travel costs of the Executive Protection Unit have grown by 1,800 percent since Christie became governor in 2010. Those expenses have totaled $959,856, not including unreleased expense information for the fourth quarter of last year, according to state records.
Much of the increase can be attributed to Christie’s frequent out-of-state trips for political and personal purposes.
Last year, Christie traveled out-of-state more than 100 days while visiting 36 states, Mexico and Canada, primarily to help raise $106 million in campaign contributions as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. This month, Christie’s trips to Dallas Cowboys football games raised questions on his gifts from team owner Jerry Jones, plus the public expense protecting the governor wherever he goes.
More than 80 percent — or $793,007 — of the EPU travel expenses were charged to one or more American Express credit cards used by the governor’s office, which later sought reimbursement by the state police. Presumably, those bills include transportation, lodging, meals and other costs.
“We are unable to provide you with the detail from the American Express card monthly statements from February 2010 through September 2014 because the monthly statements indicate the names of the of the Executive Protection Unit members, the number of Executive Protection Unit members and the location of these members on a day-to-day basis,” records custodian Heather Taylor said in the denial letter.
But rather than black out the names of the officers, Christie’s office seeks to withhold all of the American Express records from public disclosure.
If the dispute goes to court, it would not be the first time a judge has decided whether the governor’s travel records should be released. In Mercer County Superior Court last October, Judge Mary C. Jacobson issued a split decision in a similar case.
Jacobson ordered the governor’s office to release air travel records of past trips, rejecting the argument that disclosure of that information would pose a security risk. Yet in the same ruling, the judge allowed Christie’s staff to keep secret the names of hotels where the governor stayed.