What Mitt Romney learned about Chris Christie in 2012 and why it matters for 2016

November 4, 2013

When Mitt Romney went searching for a vice presidential running mate last year, he and his team gave New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) a good long look. Two times. What they found is notable not just for what it says about 2012, but what it might also say about 2016.


(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The details surfaced in "Double Down," a book about the 2012 campaign due to hit bookshelves  Tuesday. In their account, authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann describe a difficult vetting process in which Christie's team provided incomplete information about a host of potential red flags pertaining to his  record. Here's why it all matters: Christie may run for president in 2016, and if he does, the media and his opponents could give some or all of the information fresh attention.

Here's a closer look at the issues that caught the Romney team's attention:

1. A Justice Department IG's report: In 2010, a DoJ inspector general report criticized Christie's free-spending habits in the U.S. attorney's office, a revelation that was made public that year. Halperin and Heilemann write that the report "criticized him for being 'the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification' and for offering 'insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification' for stays at swank hotels." The book says the report also "raised questions for vetters about Christie's relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many of the trips."

2. A defamation lawsuit: Romney's team also looked at a defamation lawsuit Christie faced, write Halperin and Heilemann. Here's how the Newark Star-Ledger described the incident:  "In 1994, his opponents in the Republican Morris County freeholder primary sued him for claiming they were under investigation by the county prosecutor. The case was settled, and Christie issued a formal apology." The Romney vetters asked Christie's team to provide the terms of settlement, but did not get that information by the time they issued a report on him for Romney to review.

3. Christie's lobbying work: The Romney campaign wanted more information than they got on Christie's lobbying clients, according to the book. Also, Christie once lobbied for the Securities Industry Association when Bernie Madoff -- who was sentenced in 2009 for masterminding a historic financial fraud -- was a senior official there.

4. Christie's brother: In 2008, Todd Christie agreed to settle Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges. The book says he "acknowledged making 'hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.' " Halperin and Heilemann write that his oversight of a family foundation also caught the attention of the Romney vetters. The written report the Romney vetters finalized for the presidential candidate to review said that the campaign asked Christie whether his brother incurred any penalty as a result of action taken by the SEC/NYSE, but they had not received that information.

5. Steering contracts to donors/allies: "There was Christie's decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies such as former attorney general John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing," Halperin and Heilemann write. Separately, the New York Times took a close look recently at an ally of Christie's who had charges dismissed. The paper found no evidence the dismissal came at Christie's order. But if he runs for president, Christie could find that opposition research teams will be digging into the broader subject of possible political favors pertaining to his record.

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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Anne Bartlett | November 4, 2013