Washington Prowler

Jersey Dogs

A White House and House Democrat effort to embarrass Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie. (Updated -- twice.)

By 6.12.09

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(UPDATE: REVISED TO CORRECT BENENSON STATEMENT)
(UPDATE II:
LETTER FROM JOEL BENENSON INCLUDED BELOW*) 

Republican New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie was issued a House Judiciary Committee invitation to appear before one of its subcommitees next week, with the knowledge and encouragement of the White House and Democrat leaders in the House of Representatives, according to House Judiciary sources.

According to House as well as state Democrat operatives, Christie received the invitation earlier this week to appear before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law to testify about a bill sponsored by two New Jersey Democrats, Rep. Bill Pascrell and Rep. Frank Pallone, both of whom have ties to various political operatives working on the re-election campaign of New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. Corzine has been trailing Christie by double digits in the polls and is considered vulnerable for defeat next November.

"They want to smear Christie and try to damage him as much as possible," says one House Judiciary staffer. "We've been told that the Democrats have even given a photographer hired by the Democratic National Committee a press credential so that he can take a picture of Christie taking the oath before testifying. This is a show trial."

In fact, the White House was notified by aides to House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, who sits on the subcommittee chaired by Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, that Christie was going to be called to testify. "The White House didn't have a problem with it," says a Democratic House leadership aide. "Of course this is political, there's no point in denying it. Everyone understands that if Christie and [Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob] McDonnell win in the fall, the tide we've been riding shifts a bit, and folks will be smelling blood in the water. Our leaders here have made it clear the White House is watching and wants us to help wherever we can."

Christie has been invited to appear before the subcommittee before, and was aware prior to his primary victory that he might be invited again. But Corzine is a target of Republicans nationally, and Christie, a former U.S. Attorney in the Bush Administration, is considered a strong candidate to knock off the one-term governor, former U.S. Senator and senior executive at Goldman Sachs. Corzine's situation, according to White House sources, has been monitored by presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser David Axelrod, both of whom of are indirectly overseeing the political operation in the White House.

According to White House sources, both Emanuel and Axelrod have grown increasingly uncomfortable with Corzine's situation, and had noted that well-known New Jeresey pollster Joel Benenson was providing polling services to Corzine. Benenson and his firm have long been viewed as one of the more influential figures in New Jersey politics, and his firm has in the past done polling work used by Democratic caucuses on Capitol Hill, as well as just about every major Democrat politico in New Jersey, including former Sen. Bob Torricelli, former Gov. Jim McGreevey, and Sen. Bob Menendez. Benenson was the Obama campaign's lead pollster in 2008 and Amy Levin, a principal in Benenson's firm, served as Axelrod's chief of staff up until Axelrod left his firm in December 2008. However, Benenson tells The American Spectator that he is not polling for Corzine.

*UPDATE II: At 11:33 p.m. Friday night, we received this letter in our Reader Mail:

It is essential to set the record straight. Not only is the Benenson Strategy Group not polling for Governor Corzine now, the firm, which was founded nine years ago, has never polled for Jon Corzine in either his Senate or Gubernatorial campaigns. Any White House source that provided you with this information is entirely uninformed and is trying to create false impressions about who is or is not involved with Gov. Corzine’s relection efforts.

Sincerely,
Joel Benenson
Founding Partner
The Benenson Strategy Group

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