TRENTON, N.J.—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is pushing to have a former colleague and Bridgegate lawyer appointed as U.S. attorney for New Jersey, but he faces stiff headwinds from within the White House, where the governor has frequently clashed with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to interviews with a dozen political and legal sources familiar with the maneuvering.
Christie enlisted the state’s Republican congressmen to send a letter to Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions endorsing Craig Carpenito, a former federal prosecutor who defended Christie in a citizen’s complaint accusing him of official misconduct in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scheme.
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But Carpenito, who worked under Christie in the U.S. Attorney’s office, is running behind Geoffrey S. Berman, another ex-prosecutor who served on Trump’s transition team and has backing at the top levels of the White House. Berman’s allies, inside and outside the Trump administration, have Kushner’s ear and support, said three sources with knowledge of the jockeying, all of whom requested anonymity to discuss the private wrangling involving two major political figures.
Kushner, perhaps Trump’s most trusted adviser, would be loath to allow Christie to exert his influence on such a pick, several sources in New Jersey and Washington said.
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He and the governor have a bitter personal history. Christie, who was U.S. attorney from 2002 to 2008, prosecuted Kushner’s father, Charles, a prominent real-estate developer and Democratic fund-raiser, for tax fraud, making false statements to federal authorities about campaign contributions, and witness retaliation.
In 2005 a judge sentenced Charles Kushner to two years in federal prison in Alabama. Jared Kushner would visit his father while he was in graduate school.
In turn, Jared Kushner is said to have tried to diminish Christie’s role in Trump’s orbit, including by helping to persuade his father-in-law to offer the vice-presidential nomination to Mike Pence.
After Trump’s November election, Christie was ousted as head of Trump’s transition team and replaced by Pence.
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It’s not clear when Trump will announce his nomination, though people close to the process said Berman’s vetting is in an advanced stage.
U.S. attorneys, in coordination with the FBI, oversee investigations and prosecutions of federal crimes ranging from political corruption to drug smuggling.
Carpenito, now in private practice at Alston & Bird LLP, previously worked for Christie as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey in the office’s securities and health care fraud unit when Christie was the state’s chief federal law enforcement officer. Before that, Carpenito, 43, worked in the Security and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division in New York.
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Berman, 57, is co-managing shareholder in the New Jersey office of Greenberg Traurig LLP and a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. He helped investigate the Iran-Contra scandal with the independent counsel and won a conviction in the case of a former senior CIA operative, Thomas G. Clines, for tax fraud.
He also clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia after graduating from Stanford Law in 1984. Berman represented a peripheral figure in the bridge case; his client wasn’t charged.
Reached by phone Thursday, Berman declined to comment. The White House also declined to comment and Carpenito and spokesmen for Christie didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Christie has tried to put Carpenito into contention, including by enlisting the state’s Republican congressmen to send an April letter.
Maureen Himebaugh will take any opportunity to attend an event that could help bring her son home.
Rep. Chris Smith led the effort — though he said it was not at the governor’s behest. Smith said he met with Carpenito for 90 minutes and backed the lawyer because he promised to make human trafficking cases a high priority.
“He came highly recommended by a lot of people I trust,” Smith said. “We have a huge problem with sex trafficking in our area … we need a U.S. attorney who will go after it very aggressively.”
The current acting U.S. attorney is William E. Fitzpatrick, who took over the job after Trump asked President Barack Obama’s appointee, Paul Fishman, to resign in March.
The next U.S. attorney will oversee the Justice Department’s response to appeals from two former Christie allies, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, convicted in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scheme. Prosecutors accused them of causing massive traffic jams to punish a mayor who had refused to endorse Christie’s 2013 re-election campaign.
As for the citizen’s complaint against Christie, in which Carpenito represented his old boss, a municipal court judge found there was probable cause that the governor broke the law and referred the matter to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor declined to pursue the case, and another judge has denied multiple requests for a special prosecutor to be appointed.
Christie has denied wrongdoing. And he has made clear that he believes the U.S. attorney’s office lost its way under Fishman, saying in March that he expected Trump to nominate someone who would “restore” his former office to “its past success.”