Christie’s unseemly defense of Trump’s corrupt attack on federal prosecutor | Moran

Posted Jun 23, 2020

One day, long ago, Gov. Chris Christie was the kind of Republican who built bridges with Democrats to pass bipartisan legislation, some of it quite progressive. His bail reform freed thousands of criminal suspects held in our jails only because they couldn’t afford bail. His police reform in Camden cut crime while improving relations between cops and citizens. His education reform led to impressive gains in test scores and graduation rates in cities like Newark and Camden.

So it’s a pity to witness him tarnish that legacy now by serving as President Trump’s chief defender every Sunday morning on ABC’s This Week. Like so many conservatives who have hitched themselves to Trump, he is emerging diminished.

The latest came Sunday when Christie defended Trump’s firing of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, the top federal prosecutor in New York City, who was busy running a criminal investigation of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, and had earlier won the conviction of Michael Cohen, also a personal attorney of Trump’s.

Any sentient being can see this for what it is: Another attempt by Trump to silence a critic, as he’s done over and over. Watchdogs are an endangered species in this White House. The casualties include inspectors generals, senior FBI officials, and witnesses who agreed to testify under oath about Trump’s behavior during the Ukraine scandal. Who can forget Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated veteran who was fired for his testimony in the impeachment hearings, along with his twin brother, for good measure?

But Christie doesn’t see any of that in Berman’s firing. He says Trump’s dumping of Berman presented no conflict of interest and presents no threat to the rule of law. This was a routine personnel matter folks, nothing to see here.

“This is not a situation where the president did anything other than say he was no longer content with the service of the person he appointed,” Christie said Sunday.

Trump has offered no reason for the firing, and neither has Attorney General William Barr, who pulled the trigger. Christie is suggesting that Berman was fired for poor performance. But if Berman is incompetent, why did Barr offer him a job as head of the civil division of the Justice Department? In that seat, Berman would handle crucial issues, like immigration and voting rights. If Trump’s concern were really about Berman’s abilities, there is no way he would give Berman that crucial job, which could be seen as a promotion.

What Trump did is strip Berman of his power to investigate crimes by those in and around the White House. If Christie can’t see the conflict in this move, he’s making an effort to avert his eyes.

Trump had hoped to give Berman’s job to Jay Clayton, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a personal friend and golfing buddy with no experience in prosecution. In the end, Trump didn’t get his way, mainly because even Republicans in the Senate were appalled at this move.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, made it clear that he would observe a Senate tradition that gives home-state senators the right to block nominations they oppose. That effectively killed Trump’s scheme, as Sen. Chuck Schumer made it clear he would not go along with Clayton’s appointment.

“Jay Clayton … should not be an accomplice to corrupt scheme and intrigue by the president and Mr. Barr,” Schumer said.

It was only after this scheme collapsed that Barr and Trump retreated by agreeing to give Berman’s job to his deputy, Audrey Strauss, who wins praise from all sides as smart, tough and independent. Berman agreed to step aside without a fight only after receiving assurances that Strauss would get the job.

Christie is trying to spin this tactical retreat into a virtue, as evidence of Trump’s pure motives.

“The proof of the matter is that he appointed that person’s first assistant to succeed him,” Christie said on ABC. “She will be an independent, smart tough choice. That’s what really matters.”

In an interview Monday, Christie said that Trump and Barr failed to lay the political groundwork for the switch from Berman to Clayton.

“They didn’t have a plan for how you get Jay (Clayton) confirmed,” Christie said. “I would not have removed Berman at this time. It’s bad timing.”

That criticism on political tactics, meek and measured as it is, points to the single blessing of the Trump presidency: The damage is limited by his incompetence. Let’s not pretend that he deserves extra points for that.

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