One of the tangential Bridgegate storylines that has triggered bad headlines for Gov. Chris Christie is how much he has charged taxpayers to cover the cost of the legal team representing his office: $10 million.
So far. The press hasn’t seen any bills past August 2015, so the current price tag is immeasurably higher than that. But the amount will be kept secret until after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump decides whether to select Christie as his running mate.
Initially, the delay in turning over this public information was due to the fact that Christie’s high-powered firm, Gibson Dunn, did not submit invoices to the state, despite Attorney General guidelines that call for timely billing.
Once the bills were available, WNYC was given myriad explanations by officials at the Attorney General’s Office about why they weren’t releasing the bills, which are required to be turned over immediately upon request in accordance with the state’s public records law.
First the lawyer in charge of redacting sensitive information on the invoices was on vacation. Later, another official who had to approve the final, redacted release was out of the office. And on and on.
The most recent request was filed three weeks ago. Two promised release dates then came and went. And on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Ryan Atkinson said officials are “actively working” on preparing the bills for release but they would not be turned over until next week, at the earliest.
That means that news that may reflect poorly on Christie will be kept secret until after Trump makes his selection for a running mate later this week. Christie is a finalist for the nomination, according to several published reports, and among the issues Trump’s team addressed with Christie during a three-hour interview this past Saturday was the Bridgegate scandal.
Chris Porrino, recently appointed acting attorney general by Christie, was the chief counsel in the governor’s office when the Bridgegate scandal erupted in January 2014. He helped the governor investigate the scandal and manage the crisis, becoming one of the governor’s closer confidantes. Porrino later accompanied Christie on political trips and attended his election night party in New Hampshire after the Republican presidential primary.
Now, Porrino is in charge of the office that is withholding the legal bills. He is serving in an acting capacity at the pleasure of the governor, awaiting state senate confirmation. New Jersey hasn’t had a confirmed attorney general in three years.
Spokesmen for Porrino did not respond to a question about whether the bills are being withheld because Christie is being vetted for the vice presidential nomination. But the release of previous Bridgegate invoices have come with a political taint: They were emailed to reporters on Friday afternoons and evenings, which had the effect of minimizing media coverage during weekends.
Including the legal expenses for other state and Port Authority employees, Bridgegate legal bills paid for by taxpayers exceed $13 million, as of last August.
A former Christie appointee and a former deputy chief of staff face criminal charges related to the Bridgegate scheme. Their trial is scheduled for September. Their defense lies in part on the allegation that Christie’s attorneys hid information about what the governor knew, and when. He may be called as a witness.