Fair play or politics as usual in Trenton?

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie questioned the reaction to recent corruption charges. He said it sends an inconsistent message.

Posted: September 15, 2007

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said he wasn't talking about anyone in particular yesterday when he rebuked Trenton's reaction to a recent string of political corruption charges.

But it sure sounded as if his criticism were directed squarely at Gov. Corzine.

On Thursday, the governor staked out what critics called a hypocritical position on why he called for two assemblymen, charged with taking bribes, to resign from office while not doing the same for two state senators indicted in federal court.

In a speech yesterday to a Mercer County business group, Christie decried this "inconsistency in message" and said anyone who takes both positions has "no credibility on the matter of ethics."

"Thinking people suspect that we're not being consistent because we're playing politics," he said.

Corzine asked Assemblymen Mims Hackett and Alfred Steele to resign after they were arrested last week in an FBI bribery sting that netted 11 public officials. They both submitted letters of resignation this week.

Corzine has not called on State Sens. Wayne Bryant and Sharpe James, both indicted in separate cases this year, to step down. They both announced before their indictments that they would not run for reelection this fall.

Sen. Joseph Coniglio also has announced that he would not run for reelection this year after he was informed he was the target of a federal investigation into corruption.

All five politicians are Democrats, as is Corzine.

"I think the situation with the Assembly folks who were caught on tape taking bribes is a slightly different set of facts," the governor said.

He called the accusations against Bryant and James "ethically challenged behavior."

"Whether that's criminal or not is still to be determined," Corzine said.

Christie, long rumored to be a GOP gubernatorial candidate, said he took no position on whether a public official merely charged with a crime should step down. But he said politicians should not pressure Hackett and Steele to resign "but be deafened by the silence with regards to Wayne Bryant and Sharpe James."

Corzine's office would not comment yesterday on Christie's speech.

Christie predicted that his office would win convictions against all the recently charged and indicted politicians. He also attacked critics who claim that his prosecutions are politically motivated, noting that his office has convicted 108 public officials without losing a case.

"Where is the long line of the politically persecuted who were acquitted?" he asked.

Christie, a former Morris County freeholder, described himself yesterday as a "reformed politician" and did not hint at his plans after he leaves the U.S. Attorney's Office in about 15 months.

Still, he made the same plea to voters that he has been making for several months: Elect better public officials and hold them accountable.

"Show them that what you care about is truth and principle," he said.

Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 856-779-3893 or tgraham@phillynews.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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