New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie headed to Iowa for a much-anticipated visit on Monday, hours after an online media organization sued to obtain records of his private contacts with Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes.
“A strong public interest exists in knowing whether the executive in charge of the nation’s most-watched cable news channel is acting as a political consultant to a prospective Republican presidential candidate,” states a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jerseyon behalf of Gawker Entertainment and Gawker reporter John Cook.
Cook requested the release of correspondence between Christie and Ailes in May, after a New York Magazinestory reported that Ailes had urged Christie to run for president. Cook made his request under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act. In response, the governor’s office wrote: “The records you are seeking, if they exist, would be exempt from disclosure pursuant to OPRA based upon the executive privilege and well-settled case law.”
Under New Jersey law, executive privilege applies only to records that pertain to the governor’s constitutional role as chief executive. Cook and the ACLU maintain that that privilege cannot extend to discussions of the governor's political future.
In the Gawker Entertainment v. Jeffrey S. Chiesa case, the ACLU will argue that, to invoke executive privilege, the New Jersey governor’s office needs to identify the responsive records and explain why executive privilege applies to them.
News of the lawsuit broke as Christie traveled to Iowa to participate in a fundraiser for Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and speak at a Des Moines education conference.
Republicans in Iowa and elsewhere have called for Christie to jump into the presidential race. Although Christie has repeatedly insisted that he will not do so, he has met privately with several of the declared candidates and may prove influential.
The governor’s office released a schedule entry for a private dinner between Christie and Ailes on Monday but declined to release further information. "This office is in possession of no other records responsive to your request," Assistant Counsel Raymond Brande wrote in a letter to Cook.
“The letter speaks for itself; nothing else to add” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an e-mail, when asked to comment on the lawsuit.