Did FOIA Request On Financial Ties To Christie Prompt Top Aide’s Departure?

Hat tip Marcy Wheeler at Firedoglake…

Did Chris Christie’s top aide resign as a top prosecutor this summer in order to prevent information about her financial ties to Christie from becoming public? Let’s look at the facts:It was reported on August 17 that Michele Brown had in 2007 received an unreported $46,000 loan from Christie, her boss at the time.

Two days later, according to a Jon Corzine campaign press release sent yesterday, the governor’s team had submitted a FOIA request asking for a rundown of Brown’s salaries and promotions since 2000, and any communications since 2001 between Brown and Christie that “refer to the personal finances of either party.”

Six days after that, on August 25th, Brown resigned from the US attorney’s office in August, saying she didn’t want to be a “distraction” to fellow prosecutors. It was that same day, we later learned, that the Justice Department intervened to take Brown off the task of responding to the various FOIA requests filed by the Corzine campaign. Brown’s role in hearing up the response had been a clear conflict of interest, of course, since some of the information sought by the Corzine camp pertained to her relationship with Christie, a Republican.

The Justice Department had denied the requests pertaining to Brown the day after they were filed, arguing that they would be violations of her privacy. (You can read the official denial here.) But the Corzine campaign appealed that ruling, and the legal wrangling is ongoing.

So as Wheeler puts it, “it may be that Brown quit in an attempt to make it easier to refuse this FOIA,” since it would mean that she, the subject of the request, was now a former, rather than a current, government employee.

One FOIA expert told TPMmuckraker that Brown’s departure may indeed make it easier for the Justice Department to prevail in withholding the information. “If she’s not currently working there, when they make their decision, that would add more to the side of personal privacy,” said Scott Hodes, a lawyer and longtime expert on FOIA and the Privacy Act. “So yeah, it could bolster her case, especially from their point of view.”

Only Brown knows, of course. But given the history of professional and personal ties between her and Christie, it’s certainly a question worth asking.