TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Since there is already a video on YouTube of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talking about his security detail, his office cannot use security concerns as a basis to withhold records from a reporter group looking into Christie’s expenses, a judge ruled Thursday.
Noting that travel expenses for New Jersey’s executive protection unit “are 18 times higher than when Christie took office,” New Jersey Watchdog reporter Mark Lagerkvist brought a suit earlier this year for more information on records showing that the governor charged nearly $800,000 to American Express cards for the travel costs of his state police security detail.
In addition to itemized American Express credit card receipts since February 2009, Lagerkvist wanted a directory of 2,500 reporters to whom the governor’s office had sent videos and other media alerts.
Christie’s attorneys told the Mercer County Superior Court earlier this month that releasing the credit card data would endanger the governor because it could potentially reveal the names of security unit members, the number of those members guarding the governor, and where they would be stationed.
Though Judge Mary Jacobson previously seemed inclined to credit these concerns, her position changed when Lagerkvist drew her attention to a video that the governor’s office posted on its YouTube channel in which a Cub Scout rather adorably asks Christie how many bodyguards he has.
“A subtle hint would be the guys with the wires in their ears,” Christie joked in reply as he scanned the room, the video shows.
After counting six, Christie went on to say that New Jersey’s executive protection unit employs 30 officers, any number of whom follow him around throughout the day.
Jacobson noted Monday that she was “very troubled” by the cavalier way in which the governor revealed details about his security detail.
“When I saw that YouTube video, I felt it had completely undermined how I ruled before,” Jacobson said during the hearing. “If that’s what’s out there, put out by the governor … I mean, goodness, I gave credence to the need for preventing [such] details.”
Lagerkvist had not sought the names of the officers who guard Christie, only the amounts spent on expenses for the security detail when the governor traveled.
Jacobson gave Christie’s office until June 12 to have the captain of the Executive Protection Unit privately review credit card receipts in the judge’s chambers and explain why they could compromise the governor’s security.
After the hearing, Lagerkvist’s attorney Donald Doherty Jr. said “security is the big boogeyman these days.”
“The fact that [Christie] is willing to talk about it publicly shows it’s not that big a risk,” Doherty added.
Deputy Attorney General Daniel Vanella, who represented Christie, had no comment, but had said during the hearing that “I certainly wish the governor hadn’t made those comments” in the YouTube video.
Christie’s office initially tried to rebuff Lagerkvist by claiming the Custodian of Records, a co-defendant, had not kept monthly credit card statements prior to February 2010.
The office then claimed providing receipts could allow a would-be assassin or other person targeting Christie to suss out patterns in the governor’s security procedures.
Jacobson had one curt solution to that concern: “Just change the pattern”
Lagerkvist reported earlier this month that state lawmakers are pushing legislation to expose how Christie spends his $95,000 annual expense account, a fund that comes in addition to the governor’s $175,000-a-year salary.
Christie reportedly spent nearly $65,000 on security in 2010, his first year in office, then doubled in 2011 and nearly doubled again in 2012.
As to Lagerkvist’s request for the 2,500 media names and contact information included in the “govnews” e-mail blasts Christie’s office sends out, Christie’s office previously provided a list of the Jan. 26 “govnews” email blast recipients, including those blind-copied on the message.
The disclosure omitted the email addresses, giving only the names.
But Doherty, the journalist’s attorney, noted that similar “govnews” email lists that NJ public radio reporter Matt Katz previously obtained included contact information, as well as a chart breaking down the list’s tiers into broadcast versus print media, traditional versus conservative media, Spanish-speaking publications, and so forth.
“A mass email is not a list,” Doherty said during the hearing.
The attorney claimed that his client’s requests seemed to have “hit a nerve” and thus prompted denials by Christie’s people, unlike in other reporters’ requests.
Jacobson agreed, denying the government any exemptions for providing Lagerkvist the same email directories to the “govnews” blast that had been shown to Katz.
The government now has until June 12 to provide the directories or to certify why it cannot produce such a document.
Lagerkvist, who watched the hearing in the courtroom, said after the ruling that he was pleased with the ruling but is hesitant to see what the government ultimately produces. “I don’t know what to expect anymore,” he said.
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