I almost got fired by Chris Christie. Almost, but not quite.
From June 2004 until November 2005, while working for then-U.S. Attorney Christie in my home state of New Jersey, I maintained a deliciously dishy blog about federal judges called Underneath Their Robes, offering “news, gossip, and colorful commentary about the federal judiciary.” Because I realized that appearing before judges by day and gossiping about them by night could be problematic, I wrote under a pseudonym, pretending to be a woman and calling myself Article III Groupie aka A3G.
In November 2005 — for reasons that I won’t go into here, but that I’m happy to explain at speaking engagements — I revealed myself as A3G in a New Yorker interview with Jeffrey Toobin. The news that one of his prosecutors was writing an irreverent blog about federal judges, including some judges his office appeared before, caused much aggravation for Chris Christie.
The New Yorker piece appeared on a Monday. A few days later, on Friday — after the scandal had made the pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the Drudge Report — I got called up to the big man’s office on the seventh floor of 970 Broad Street….
Chris Christie could have fired me for my online antics. Even though I hadn’t blogged about any of my cases or revealed any confidences, I had certainly created an appearance of impropriety with my sometimes-snarky blogging about various judges. And I had violated the office’s media policy, by not clearing my New Yorker interview with the appropriate authorities.
Realizing the trouble I had caused for the office — my story was on the front page, above the fold, for two days in a row in the Bergen Record (the outlet that broke the news of the Bridgegate emails) — I offered my resignation to Christie. Although I wanted to keep my job as an AUSA, I said that if he wanted me to go, I would leave quietly.
(An aside to lawyers who get into trouble and find themselves covered on Above the Law: I know what it feels like to be the scandale du jour. I was on the Drudge Report, for crying out loud. But instead of whining about news outlets covering my misadventures — which were my own fault, of course — I acknowledged my wrongdoing and expressed willingness to accept the consequences.)
Christie responded graciously and with forgiveness, saying that he did not want my resignation. He had mentioned my situation to the Department of Justice powers that be in D.C., who told him that it was his call as to what to do with me, and it was his wish that I remain in the office. He told me that I had been doing very good work as an AUSA and that we should go back to business as usual. He also added that if I later decided to leave the office to pursue a writing career, he would understand, but that kind offer of support was in no way an effort by him to force me out (even though it got spun that way in some outlets).
(It was understood by both of us that I would not continue my blogging. By this point in time I had effectively shut down the site — I hadn’t deleted the year and a half worth of content, but I placed it behind a password and gave nobody the password — and it was understood that I wouldn’t revive it while in the office, even though it was not explicitly addressed in our conversation.)
I took him up on the offer to stay and returned to being a prosecutor — but after a while, I found I missed the creative outlet of online writing. In early 2006, I left the U.S. Attorney’s Office to take a job blogging about politics for the website Wonkette, where I worked for a few months before leaving to start Above the Law. At the time that I left the office, Christie was exceedingly kind — much kinder than I had any right to expect. He said that if I tried out the writing thing for a few months and decided I didn’t like it, I’d always be welcome back in the U.S.A.O., as long as he was still U.S. Attorney.
I never had to take him up on that offer, but I remain grateful to him to this day. His mentioning the possibility of returning greatly reduced the anxiety that I felt as I left a stable career in the law for a far riskier field and less lucrative position (at least initially). There were other factors that helped me make the jump from law to journalism with increased comfort — such as financial ones, like no educational debt and a few years’ of Wachtell Lipton bonuses still in the bank — but his support provided great reassurance as I headed out the door.
Based on my interactions with and knowledge of Governor Christie, what are my thoughts on Bridgegate? I’m happy to share them….