Two criminal investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday interviewed the man who leveled those charges, Bennett Barlyn. He was fired from the Hunterdon County prosecutor's office in August 2010, and subsequently brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the Christie administration, claiming he had been punished for objecting to the dismissal of the indictments of the governor's supporters for a range of corrupt activities.
Barlyn told IBTimes that he met with the federal investigators at his Pennsylvania home for more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon. He said they specifically focused on why Christie’s then-attorney general, Paula Dow, had moved to expunge the indictments. The investigators are examining what state and federal laws may have been broken in the process. Barlyn said the investigators appeared to be at an exploratory stage, with no certainty that criminal charges would ultimately be filed. The meeting followed a June letter to Barlyn from New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney, Paul Fishman, instructing Barlyn to be in touch with his office’s investigative team about the case.
The New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment. Christie has denied any involvement in Barlyn's termination, while maintaining that he does not even know the men and women he has been accused of aiding. The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
So what happened? Looks like the last straight arrow New Jersey prosecutor got his legs cut out from under him.
The case centers on exurban/rural Hunterdon County, in western New Jersey along the Delaware River. There, Barlyn claims, then-county Sheriff Deborah Trout ran her office like a private fiefdom, hiring her friends without respect to their experience, and without initiating proper background checks as mandated by state law.
Barlyn’s office began probing Trout in 2008, eventually convening a grand jury that returned 43 indictments against her, Undersheriff Michael Russo and investigator John Falat Jr. The Christie administration then intervened, took over the prosecution and -- in an extraordinary step -- moved to have the grand jury indictments overturned, saying they were legally and factually deficient. When Barlyn raised objections, he was fired.
Now it's entirely possible that Barlyn really was on a witch hunt and looking to collect Sheriff Trout's head for whatever reason, but the Christie team both taking over the investigation and then killing all 43 counts seems at best highly unethical and at worst blatantly illegal.
It's yet another strike against a guy with way too much baggage to ever win a GOP primary for the 2016 nomination, let alone win the White House. With all the accusations of "Chicago Way cronyism" against Obama shouted into the ether by tea party knuckleheads, this is what that particular crime actually looks like, Jersey style.