Former Bush official Michael Chertoff, an ex-New Jersey U.S. Attorney, told The Record’s Herb Jackson today that it was “a stretch” to say that New Jersey acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra made unethical comments that could have aided former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie’s campaign for governor.
The Justice Department is probing Marra over the public remarks he made after his office netted 44 individuals – including 29 elected or public officials — in a corruption investigation last month, The Associated Press reported yesterday. Christie, Marra’s former boss, has used the arrests to argue he would be better at preventing public corruption than Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.
Here’s what Marra reportedly said:
“There are easily reforms that could be made within this state that would make our job easier, or even take some of the load off our job. There are too many people that profit off the system the way it is and so they have no incentive to change it. The few people that want to change it seem to get shouted down. So how long that cycle’s going to continue I just don’t know.”
Here’s what Chertoff told Jackson in an interview:
Q: Did Marra cross a line with his comments?
A: I’m not going to comment on something somebody said that I didn’t see or hear. Generally there are a set of rules, you’re not supposed to comment, give a personal opinion about someone’s guilt or innocence, you’re not supposed to talk about evidence that hasn’t actually been made public in court. So those are pretty clear rules. I think every U.S. attorney always has a little rhetorical flourish. I don’t ever remember seeing a U.S. attorney, including myself, get out and say we’ve arrested people for horrendous acts of terrorism, we don’t want to comment about whether we think it’s good or bad. That’s obviously a little foolish. So I think the key’s generally to avoid saying anything that would prejudice the defendant in the case.
Q: Does the fact Mr. Marra’s former supervisor is a candidate for governor running on the a reform platform-
A: [Interrupting]I think it’s a stretch to try to fit this is into a political discussion. The rules are - Obviously a US attorney won’t come out and say I support a political candidate, but you know there’s always an election in this country, and if the rule is you can’t say anything that might be a topic of public interest then you wouldn’t be able to have a press conference. So I think generally the rule is not to comment on guilt or innocence, not to talk about evidence that’s not in the case. But I think general comments about the significance of the case, whether it’s a corruption case or a bank fraud case or a securities fraud case, a mortgage fraud case, that’s kind of common frankly.