New Jersey U.S. Attorney Office Joins Political Brawl
By Andrew Ramonas | August 26, 2022 5:11 pm

Acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra has waded into the political battle over Chris Christie’s tenure as the state’s top federal prosecutor, lashing out at about controversies surrounding his former boss in an email to his staff.

Marra at the July 23 Operation Bid Rig news conference that sparked an ethics inquiry into his remarks. (Getty Images)

Marra at the July 23 Operation Bid Rig news conference that sparked an ethics inquiry into his remarks. (Getty Images)

Christie, a Republican, is locked in an increasingly bitter race for New Jersey governor against incumbent Jon Corzine, a Democrat. Marra’s email, disclosed Wednesday by the PolitickerNJ blog, denounced as ”wholly trumped up” a complaint against him that sparked a Department of Justice ethics inquiry. He said the U.S. Attorney’s office “has been unfairly drawn into a political campaign through [a] barrage of FOIA requests” from the Corzine campaign. And he expressed “great regret” at the resignation of acting First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Brown after controversy erupted over an unreported loan Christie made to her.

Marra also notes in the e-mail that Marc Larkins is now the office’s acting First Assistant, while Marc Ferzan is the acting Executive Assistant and acting Deputy U.S. Attorney for Southern New Jersey.

We’ll get to Marra’s email below, as well as an assessment from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) that Marra has “completely compromised any sense of neutrality.” But first, here’s a recap of the mounting list of controversies stemming from Christie’s tenure as U.S. Attorney:

  • Christie’s office awarded a no-bid court monitoring contract worth up to $52 million in 2007 to the consulting firm headed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Democrats have called the contract “outrageous,” and Corzine’s campaign has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for more information about it.
  • Former Bush White House advisor Karl Rove told the House Judiciary Committee that while Christie was still serving as U.S. Attorney, they had spoken about Christie’s desire to run for governor. Democrats pounced, calling the revelation evidence that Christie had improperly mixed politics with his prosecuting job.
  • Marra then came under investigation by the Department of Justice’s internal ethics watchdog over remarks he made at a July 23 news conference announcing arrests of 44 people — including two mayors close to Corzine — in a public corruption investigation called Operation Bid Rig. Marra said the “few people that want to change” New Jersey corruption “seem to get shouted down” - remarks that Democrats interpreted as intended to boost his former boss, who is running against Corzine on an anti-corruption platform.
  • On Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Brown resigned after news surfaced that Christie had loaned her $46,000 but not had not reported it on his tax returns or financial disclosure forms. Corzine supporters had previously complained that Brown had been assigned to work on their FOIA requests about Christie’s tenure, which the office has yet to fulfill.
  • On Wednesday news reports revealed that Christie had been ticketed in 2005 for speeding and driving an unregistered and uninsured vehicle. In the car with him, his wife and children was Brown, the recipient of the loan. A Christie spokeswoman acknowledged that Christie had mentioned during the traffic stop that he was the state’s top federal prosecutor. He was allowed to drive away.

Here’s the text of Marra’s e-mail:

From: Marra, Ralph (USANJ)
To: USANJ-ALL_NJUSAO_Personnel
Sent: Tue Aug 25 16:51:07 2009
Subject: Michele Brown

Everyone:

It’s with great regret that I’ve accepted Michele’s resignation as an AUSA, effective today.  Michele has had a distinguished 18 year career in this Office and has been a wonderful friend and colleague.  We wish her the best.

Effective tomorrow Marc Larkins will take over as Acting First Assistant and Marc Ferzan will wear the hats of Acting Executive Assistant and Acting Deputy U.S. Attorney for the South.

I know how distracting these transitions can be and this one has been made more difficult as the Office has been unfairly drawn into a political campaign through the barrage of FOIA requests; the purported controversy over Michele’s personal loan, and a wholly trumped up (and then apparently leaked) complaint, reportedly about my generic and general comments at the Bid Rig press conference and the timing of the Bid Rig takedown.

We owe it to the public and ourselves to keep the work of the Office going at our usual pace and at our usual standard of excellence.

Ralph

Here’s the response from Pallone, the honorary chairman of Corzine’s campaign who complains that Marra has dragged the ”dedicated professionals” in the office into politics. The letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder obtained by PolitickerNJ.com:

TO:       U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

CC:     Ralph Marra,
Acting U.S. Attorney for the State of New Jersey
Newark U.S. Attorney’s Office   970 Broad Street, 7th Floor
Newark, NJ 07102

From:   Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
237 Cannon Building
Washington,D.C. 20515

August 26, 2022

The Honorable Eric Holder, United States Attorney General:

In light of comments originating from the United State Attorney’s Office last night following the announced resignation of Assistant United States Attorney Michele Brown, I want to convey significant concerns with the way the office has handled the Corzine Campaign’s requests for information to this point as well as Acting United States Attorney Ralph Marra’s public comments regarding this matter.

In Mr. Marra’s letter to the entire staff in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he characterized the information requested as a “barrage of requests” and termed them “political”.  In fact, it was more than 161 days ago that his office received basic Freedom of Information Act requests for the schedules, travel records and other pertinent information relevant to the public trust.  Had his office continued to delay the release of this routine information based on completely reasonable, routine and legal reasons, that would be cause enough for concern.  But last night’s comments from the Acting U.S. Attorney, whose neutrality in the face of the law is of paramount importance, make it clear that he has completely compromised any sense of neutrality. I regard this as a serious breach of ethics.

These statements and actions – or lack of actions – by Mr. Marra, are even more disturbing in light of recent revelations about political, and non-political, activities undertaken by his predecessor, Chris Christie.  Recently, through Congressional testimony, we have learned that Mr. Christie, while he was U.S. Attorney, sought and took political advice regarding a potential run for governor directly from Karl Rove.  This appears to be a direct violation of the Hatch Act.  Further, when it came to light that the second Assistant United States Attorney, Michele Brown, had received an unreported loan from Mr. Christie that she was still in the process of paying back,  Mr. Marra’s office allowed her to continue overseeing the freedom of information requests.  This is despite the fact that they directly affected Mr. Christie, to whom she was personally indebted.  Mr. Marra’s refusal to heed calls to have Ms. Brown removed from handling the FOIA requests in question only compound his compromised neutrality in this matter.  Although Ms. Brown has chosen to resign immediately, Mr. Marra’s actions and comments only make the questions about the way his office is handling these public information requests persist.

I would also like to take this opportunity to let you know just how inappropriate I think the comments in Mr. Marra’s letter to staff were.  The dedicated professionals in that office have no agenda and work in a professional, non-partisan manner to make sure the law is properly enforced.  His internal e-mail appears to be an attempt to make basic requests for information appear to be somehow unfair and “political”.

The FOIA’s submitted in March were requests for the most basic of information and should be filled immediately.  Again, the records the campaign is seeking include basic information from Chris Christie’s time as United States Attorney including budgets , travel expenses and schedules.  The requests are also for details of no-bid contracts Christie awarded, including the one given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft.  Further, the requests for Mr. Christie’s communications with former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, and communications between Mr. Christie and current officials in the United States Attorney’s office since Mr. Christie resigned as U.S. Attorney, are particularly relevant in light of everything reported in the press the past couple of weeks.

The United States Attorney’s office is filled with dedicated, driven, career professionals.  In Mr. Marra’s letter last night, he acknowledged that he is being investigated for his comments and actions with regard to the Bid Rig trial.  While this revelation comes as a surprise to myself and the public at large, I believe it speaks even stronger to the need for Mr. Marra to immediately provide the basic information requested through the public information requests, or step aside from that process.

Sincerely,
Frank Pallone, Jr.
United States Congress

Here is Marra’s statement in response to Pallone’s letter:

We continue to see comments to the effect that certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests relate to routine information that has not been turned over.  In fact, the information sought from all members of the executive office for a full seven years frequently includes references to highly confidential information.  In the thousands of pages gathered in this continuous process, there are, for example, countless direct and indirect references to non-public criminal and civil investigations, meetings with witnesses - many of whom came to us with the intention of providing information on a confidential basis to assist in investigations - and other information that must be minutely scrutinized here and by staff of the FOIA office in Washington.  As one might reasonably expect in dealing with a prosecuting agency that handles more than 900 criminal cases and many times that in civil cases each year, the task is further complicated by attorney-client privileges, attorney work product and other legal and privacy-issue concerns that one would expect to encounter in such a large request.

As we have said previously, we have devoted and continue and devote significant resources daily to the task of fulfilling these FOIA requests.  Some non-confidential information, including, for example, videotapes of press statements and related materials, have been provided to the requestor.  Hundreds of employee hours have been expended to accomplish the task to date, and more time is being expended every day.  Between this office and the FOIA office within the Executive Office for United States Attorneys in Washington, all reasonable efforts are being undertaken on a continuous basis to fulfill the requests.

This post has been updated.

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