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By Maddie Hanna and Andrew Seidman, The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

TRENTON, N.J. — Of the five Dallas Cowboys games Gov. Christie has attended this season, team owner Jerry Jones supplied the tickets for three — along with a private plane ride for Christie and his family to attend Sunday’s game in Texas, the governor’s office said Monday.

While New Jersey’s rules allow the governor, a longtime Cowboys fan, to accept gifts from friends, two legal experts questioned whether the gifts gave the appearance of improper conduct.

“We’re going to see. This is a lot of money, being paid for by somebody who is an owner of a team in the NFL. The NFL has wanted a lot of things in New Jersey,” said Larry Noble, former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission and now senior counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington.

The gifts create an impression of buying or attempting to buy influence or favor, he said. “Ethics laws are very much about impressions and appearances,” Noble said.

Spokesmen for Christie did not respond to a request for comment Monday night on the ethics of the situation.

Christie’s office earlier Monday cited the governor’s Code of Conduct — an executive order with “more malleable” gift rules than those applying to other executive branch employees, according to Paula Franzese, a Seton Hall University law professor who specializes in government ethics.

The code permits the governor to accept “gifts, favors, services, gratuities, meals, lodging or travel expenses from relatives or personal friends that are paid for with personal funds.”

The governor, a Republican, is contemplating a run for president in 2016.

Christie’s interactions with Jones have been on prominent display this season, antagonizing some sports fans, including in Philadelphia.

When the Cowboys beat the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field last month, the sight of Christie high-fiving the rival team’s owner didn’t sit well with many fans in the area.

The flood of attention continued Sunday during the Cowboys’ playoff win over the Detroit Lions in Texas. A video of Christie going up for a high-five, then going in for a group hug with Jones, was quickly circulated on social media, spurring much commentary.

Christie — who flew to the game with his family on a private plane after they had vacationed in the Bahamas, the governor’s office said — suggested in a radio interview Monday that he has been a lucky charm for the Cowboys.

Noting the team has won all five of the games he’s attended — and that he’s worn the same orange sweater to each — Christie said, “There are some people in my universe who believe that becomes a good-luck thing.”

In the WFAN interview, Christie said he hoped to travel this Sunday to Lambeau Field, where the Cowboys will face the Green Bay Packers.

At one point, host Boomer Esiason remarked that the “governor gets paid a lot of money to do all these things.”

Christie responded, “Easy now.”

Unlike other New Jersey executive branch employees, Christie is permitted by the governor’s Code of Conduct to accept gifts “as long as those are paid for with personal funds and are not intended to influence” his actions as governor, Franzese said.

The tickets and travel could be considered a gift from one friend to another, for “an innocent fun football weekend,” she said. “It gets sticky when one wonders whether the gift-giving is intended to curry some kind of favor, now or in the future.”

Christie and Jones “struck up a relationship over the last two or three years and they’re good friends,” said Rich Dalrymple, vice president of public relations for the Cowboys.

Noble, of the Campaign Legal Center, said friendship exemptions in ethics laws are “intended to cover situations where you have a long-term friend” who sends a birthday gift, not friends made in Christie’s “professional capacity as governor.” He questioned whether Jones had paid for the tickets personally, or whether the Cowboys had.

Dalrymple said he did not know the cost of the tickets Christie received or details on the plane ride.

He also didn’t know whether Jones or the team had paid for the tickets — a question Christie’s spokesmen did not respond to Monday night. The governor’s office said earlier that Jones “provided both the ticket and transportation at no expense to New Jersey taxpayers.”

“Technically, I guess they’re paid for by the Cowboys,” Dalrymple said. Jones “is the Cowboys, in terms of ownership of the team.”

The state has paid for Christie’s security detail at the games, though police didn’t disclose costs Monday.

“He’s the governor 24/7, and we provide security for him at all times,” said Capt. Stephen Jones of the New Jersey State Police.

Screenshot: YouTube

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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