WASHINGTON (CN) – Facing a Senate panel on Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Third Circuit fended off questions about various scandals that plagued former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie while the New Jersey lawyer was serving as a legal adviser in the governor’s office.
Paul Matey, currently a partner at the Roseland, N.J., firm Lowenstein Sandler, served as counsel to Christie from 2010 to 2015, rising to the level of deputy chief counsel in 2012. Matey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday he was not involved in or aware of some of the biggest scandals in Christie’s time in office, including the infamous “Bridgegate.”
In that scandal, people within the New Jersey government orchestrated the shutdown of portions of the George Washington Bridge, allegedly in retaliation against a mayor who did not endorse Christie in his reelection bid.
Matey told the committee he did not have “knowledge, involvement or participation” in the scandal and that he and the other lawyers he worked with “took steps” to install “rigorous” ethical standards in the governor’s office.
“As I understand from what I know of the case from public reports as well as the charges that were brought by the United States attorney for the district of New Jersey, this was the unfortunate act of several individuals who decided to take matters outside of the law and into their own hands,” Matey said. “I believe that is the basis on which those convictions were obtained.”
While many of the questions senators had for Matey focused on his work with Christie, Democrats also objected to his hearing being held without the consent of both of New Jersey’s senators.
Under a tradition known as the blue slip, the committee has typically required both of a nominee’s home-state senators to sign off before the committee considers his or her nomination.
Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the committee, has said he will no longer allow one or two senators to hold up a nomination by not returning their blue slips unless the senators show the White House did not consult with them on the nomination.
Grassley said Democrats’ blue slip complaints are nothing more than an attempt to informally reinstate the filibuster for judicial nominees, which Democrats did away with in 2013. He also said the White House reached out to the New Jersey senators in April 2017 and made “extremely generous offers” in negotiations on open judicial positions in the state.
“In my opinion, the White House attempted to meaningfully consult, but their efforts were not reciprocated,” Grassley said Tuesday. “The New Jersey senators declined to return their blue slips for political or ideological reasons and I don’t consider that a valid reason not to have this hearing.”
But Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who sits on the committee, disagreed with how Grassley characterized the interactions. Booker said the White House did not offer to set up a meeting between him and Matey or suggest other judges Trump might nominate instead.
“Nobody has asked me what my objections might be,” Booker said Tuesday. “My response to the White House in the limited conversations we had or to any of my colleagues has never been objecting to a judge just because they are conservative. There are substantive issues that I believe deserve more conversation. To not even have an appointment arranged with the judge is insulting.”
Matey’s committee questionnaire does not list any discussions with Booker’s office prior to his nomination and notes it was Christie who first recommended Matey to the White House in February 2017.
Before working in Christie’s office, Matey served as a federal prosecutor in Newark from 2005 to 2009. He also spent two years in private practice at the Washington D.C., firm Kellogg Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick.
After leaving the governor’s office, Matey worked as senior vice president and general counsel at University Hospital in Newark.
In addition to Matey, the committee heard from four nominees to federal district courts on Tuesday.