New documents about Karl Rove's involvement in the U.S. Attorney firing scandal have the potential to create ripples in the 2009 gubernatorial race in New Jersey.
In an on-the-record interview with the House Judiciary Committee on July 7, 2009, the former Bush strategist acknowledged that he had held several conversations with current GOP candidate Chris Christie over the course of several years regarding the possibility of running for the governor's chair.
Christie, Rove said, was interested in mounting a bid and "asked me questions about who -- who were good people that knew about running for governor that he could talk to."
The admission ties the former New Jersey-based U.S. attorney even further to the Bush administration at a time when his election opponent, Gov. Jon Corzine, has attempted repeatedly to push that connection. It also raises questions as to how apolitical Christie was in his prior job.
Appointed by President Bush to the role of U.S. Attorney in January 2002, Christie earned a stellar reputation for busting white-collar criminals including crooked members of the political establishment. His success led to speculation that he would mount a bid for the governor's chair, first against then Gov. James McGreevey, then against Corzine during the '05 election. He dismissed the talk by positioning himself above the fray.
"I am just concentrating on this job and working on this job," he told The Star-Ledger in November 2003. "I have absolutely no idea what the future will bring, but I feel I was given a job by the president, and I owe it to him to spend full-time concentrating on that job. And that doesn't permit me to sit around and speculate about what I will do."
In that same article Christie said he was being "extra sensitive" to avoid politics, lest those critics who accused him of being a Bush patronage appointee be proved correct.
Four years later, when talk came up again, the line was much the same. "I think about that only because people bring it up to me all the time," Christie said about the election speculation in 2007. "But I don't focus on that. If I do my job the best I can... The future will take care of itself."
Around that time, it turns out, he was at least partially focused on a run at the governor's chair. And he was turning to one of the GOP's most prominent strategists for advice. As Rove told the House Judiciary Committee: "I talked to him twice in the last couple of years, perhaps one time while I was at the White House and once or twice since I left the White House, but -- not regarding his duties as U.S. Attorney, but regarding his interest in running for governor."
Further details about what Christie and Rove discussed aren't known. The subject was outside the purview of the House Judiciary Committee's lawyers and they declined to follow up with specific questions about the conversations. Requests for comment from Christie's office were not immediately returned.
But already the issue is proving ample fodder for the Corzine campaign, which -- trailing in the polls - has a new hook by which to tie its opponent to Bush and Rove and accuse him of politicizing the U.S. Attorney's office.
"It's pretty clear now that Christie was running a gubernatorial campaign out of the United States Attorney's office with the Bush White House and Bush's political brain, Karl Rove," said Sean Darcy, Corzine's communications director. "Christie now has to answer a number of questions, including: When did the planning start for his gubernatorial campaign? Who was involved with the planning, including members of the United States Attorney's office? How did all of this impact his investigations, including prosecutorial decisions?"