Tags: Trump Administration | GOP2016 | Christie | New Jersey | 1 million | Amex

State Says Release of $1M in Amex Bills Would Endanger Christie

By    |   Tuesday, 19 May 2015 07:40 PM

Chris Christie's lawyers say the governor's safety will be risked if a New Jersey Watchdog lawsuit forces him to disclose how his security team charged nearly $1 million on state-issued American Express cards.

The case is scheduled for a hearing on May 28 in Mercer County Superior Court.

"This would pose a new, substantial, and irreversible threat to the governor," stated Deputy Attorney General Daniel M. Vannella in a brief filed with the court. He argues that release of the Amex statements might disclose the number of state troopers assigned to the Executive Protection Unit (EPU) plus other security details.

But Christie himself revealed that information in response to a question from a Cub Scout at a town hall meeting last month. Video of the exchange was posted on YouTube by the governor's office.

"How many bodyguards do you have?" asked 7-year-old Charles Tartaglia, a member of Hasbrouck Heights Troop 17.

"I count about six," said Christie, scanning the crowded VFW hall. "I'm not telling you which ones they are, but a subtle hint would be — the guys with the wires in their ears."

The governor continued by telling the audience that 30 state police troopers are assigned to EPU — and he mentioned one by name. Christie said he is routinely accompanied by three officers. The around-the-clock protection also includes troopers stationed at his home.

A spokesman for the governor declined comment on Christie's remarks because of the litigation.

Big expenses charged to the state have been a recurring theme for Christie. Last week, a New Jersey Watchdog report revealed the governor spent roughly $300,000 from his state expense account on food and alcohol — including more than $82,000 in concessions during the 2010 and 2011 football seasons at MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants and Jets play their home games.

The total cost for EPU travel in Christie's first five years as governor exceeded $1.15 million. Almost 85 percent, or $975,000, was charged to Amex cards. Since the governor's office won't disclose the statements, how that money was used remains a mystery.

Those expenses have risen sharply as Christie pursues his political ambitions on trips outside of New Jersey, accompanied by his state police security details.

Last year alone, EPU travel cost New Jersey taxpayers $492,420. That is 22 times more than the $21,704 spent in 2009, former Gov. Jon Corzine's last year in office.

The Christie security travel expenses were five times higher than the $89,454 that Wisconsin spent in 2014 to guard Gov. Scott Walker, another presidential contender who frequently travels to campaign outside of his home state.

Starting this year, Walker's PAC has agreed to reimburse the state for the out-of-state travel costs of his state police protectors during political trips. In New Jersey, Christie is still sticking the taxpayers with the bill.

In the state's additional arguments against disclosure of the Amex statements, Vannella contends release of the Amex records would publicly identify EPU officers, causing a potential safety risk for them and their families. In contrast, New Jersey Watchdog has agreed to allow the state to remove any names, which could be replaced with alpha-numeric codes.

Vannella also asserts that disclosure of hotels where the governor has stayed in the past could enable someone to guess where he might stay during future trips. In a previous travel records suit involving Christie, a judge agreed to redact the names of hotels for security reasons but ordered the governor's office to disclose the remainder of the records.

"If these credit card statements or reconciliation summaries were released, they would provide deep insight into security procedures," warned Vannella.

Mark Lagerkvist is New Jersey Watchdog's investigative reporter. He can be reached at mark@NJwatchdog.org.

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Chris Christie's lawyers say the governor's safety will be risked if a New Jersey Watchdog lawsuit forces him to disclose how his security team charged nearly $1 million on state-issued American Express cards.
Christie, New Jersey, 1 million, Amex, travel, protection, bodyguards, food, hotels
Tuesday, 19 May 2015 07:40 PM
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