Updated at 3:15 p.m.
On Thursday, Chris Christie announced the appointment of a close ally, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, to serve as an interim replacement for the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Citing his family, Chiesa, who will be sworn in Monday, said he will not run in the special election to hold the seat beyond the fall. Chiesa is not an especially well-known figure, even within the Garden State, but he and the governor have a relationship that goes back over two decades.At the press conference announcing his appointment of Chiesa, Christie said they first met when Chiesa “was a brand new lawyer 22 years ago” and they have “been together much of the time since then.” Christie said Chiesa is someone he knows “almost as well as my own family.”
“There’s very few people in my life that I know better than Jack,” said Christie.
Chiesa is a native of New Jersey who went to the University of Notre Dame and earned his law degree from the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Chiesa currently lives in Branchburg, N.J. with his wife and their two children. According to a biography distributed by the governor’s office, Chiesa “has served as a Eucharistic minister and taught Sunday School at his church … and has coached soccer and basketball for more than eight years in Branchburg.”
Christie and Chiesa first met when they worked together at the law firm of Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci. While at the law firm, Chiesa “litigated civil matters, including the representation of medical professionals and hospitals,” according to his official biography.
In 2002, when Christie was appointed United States attorney for the District of New Jersey, he left Dughi Hewit. Chiesa followed him and remained in the U.S. Attorney’s office until 2009. During that time Chiesa held several positions including serving as executive assistant U.S. attorney and as Christie’s counsel. Chiesa also spent time as chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Public Protection Unit. In that role, he supervised a group of assistant U.S. attorneys that, according to Chiesa’s official biography, was “primarily responsible for the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases involving bank robbery, child pornography, human trafficking and identity theft.”
Christie resigned as U.S. attorney for New Jersey in December 2008 to run for governor. Chiesa left the U.S. Attorney’s office shortly afterward and went to the law firm of Wolff Samson.
Chiesa and Christie’s separation didn’t last for long. After Christie was elected to his first term, he tapped Chiesa to serve as the executive director of his transition team. In December 2009, Chiesa left Wolff Samson to be Christie’s chief counsel in the governor’s office. He held that position until December 2011 when Christie nominated him to serve as attorney general. He was sworn in one month later.
Christie has scheduled the election to permanently fill Lautenberg’s Senate seat for Oct. 16. However, critics, have accused the governor of holding the Senate vote separately from November’s general election, which includes his own re-election race, to improve his positioning in the gubernatorial campaign. Opponents of the decision, including Democratic legislators and Christie’s opponent in the governor’s race, state Sen. Barbara Buono, may attempt to challenge the current election schedule.
At the press conference with Chiesa, Christie was repeatedly asked about the controversy over the election schedule. Christie stuck to his argument that scheduling the special was the fastest way to get an elected representative in the seat under what he described as “imperfect” laws.
Because of his relatively low profile, Chiesa was asked about his positions and even his party affiliation. Chiesa said he has been a registered Republican since 2000.
“I’m a conservative Republican, I would say generally speaking,” explained Chiesa.
Chiesa did not discuss his party affiliation prior to 2000. Federal campaign finance records show he has only donated to Republican national politicians. In 1999, he gave $500 to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign. The following year, he gave $200 to New Jersey Republican Bob Franks’ Senate bid.
Reporters also asked Chiesa his position on an issue he will likely vote on — immigration reform. He indicated border security was a priority for him.
“I think the first thing we have to do is make sure the borders are secure,” said Chiesa. “From there, these issues are new to me.”
Chiesa, who said he was only informed Christie wanted to appoint him on Monday, said he also had to evaluate his positions on several other issues. Overall, Chiesa said he would be his “own person” when making decisions in the Senate. He also said, realistically, he knows he will have a finite impact due to the short length of his stint in the Senate.
“I’ve got a limited time period to contribute,” Chiesa said. “I will try to contribute every way that I can, but I don’t kid myself.”