Last fall, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie awarded his former boss, John Ashcroft, a lucrative no-bid contract to “monitor a large corporation willing to settle criminal charges out of court.” Ashcroft’s consulting company is set “to receive payments of $28 million to $52 million” in the deal, one of the biggest payouts ever reported for a federal monitor.
In an interview today, former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach said the case is suspicious because no-bid contracts are generally awarded only if there’s a strong “reason why there isn’t” a competitive process:
“When you give people government contracts, there’s usually a bidding on the contract, or if there isn’t a bidding on it, you’ve got a reason why there isn’t,” Katzenbach told PolitickerNJ.com. “…If Interior wants to go give a former Interior Secretary some big job, people can say that’s just politics and maybe it’s not that serious. But when the Department of Justice starts doing it, it suggests other political things, and that seems to me to be as wrong as it can be.”
Christie maintains that he granted the contract because of Ashcroft’s “impeccable legal credentials” and “unique” qualifications. But Ashcroft’s group isn’t even a law firm. And according to Katzenbach, Ashcroft’s resume doesn’t meet the “standards” for a $58 million monitoring contract:
“He’s a pleasant enough man. I doubt that he was an editor of the law review or a Supreme Court clerk or something of that kind — those are the kinds of standards I have.”
Both Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) are now pressing the Justice Department for details on the contracts awarded to Ashcroft and other outside lawyers since 2001, and plan to hold hearings on the Bush administration’s federal monitoring process. The Justice Department has also opened an investigation.
Katzenbach said that as a former Attorney General, he would not have accepted the contract. “I suppose like any human being, I would be tempted, but I would think it was inappropriate,” he concluded.
UPDATE: New Jersey isn’t alone. The Washington Post reports today that in the past few years, U.S. attorneys in Alabama, New York and Virginia have hired “various former prosecutors and SEC officials with ties to President Bush, his father and other Republican luminaries” as corporate monitors. (via Blue Jersey)