There’s nothing wrong with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie communicating with Fox News President Roger Ailes. That is, unless Christie wants to hide what he says under the cloak of executive privilege.
And that’s exactly what the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey wants to prevent. ACLU-NJ sued Christie on behalf of the popular blog Gawker. One of its reporters, John Cook, had requested copies in May of any correspondence, calendar entries or phone logs from Christie’s office pertaining to Ailes pursuant to New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.
New York magazine had reported that Ailes, a one-time Republican strategist who has run Fox News since its inception in 1996, had over dinner encouraged Christie, a darling in the Republican Party, to run for president. So, when it appeared the head of the most-watched cable news outlet was moonlighting as a political kingpin, Cook wanted to know more. Christie felt otherwise. His office rejected Cook’s request for information, citing executive privilege.
That led ACLU-NJ to file a suit Monday morning in state court. A short time later, Christie’s office wrote Cook and reluctantly coughed up a calendar entry that confirmed he had met with Ailes, “despite the fact that these records are exempt from disclosure on the basis of the executive privilege.” ACLU-NJ wants the governor’s office to certify the truth of that claim to the court before withdrawing the suit.
However, the fact remains there’s a disconnect between how executive privilege should be used and how it was invoked here by Christie. The governor is allowed to invoke executive privilege if the requested records contain advice on matters related to his duties as governor. Breaking bread with the arbiter of “fair and balanced” news coverage doesn’t fit the bill.
Christie needs to realize there’s no “because I said so” exception to the Open Public Records Act, and must hold himself publicly accountable to the people of New Jersey whenever the law requires.
“The end of this lawsuit is not the end of the story. We justifiably have serious concerns about how the governor handled this simple request,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “He needs to be reminded that when it comes to record requests, executive privilege must be the exception and not the rule.”