The office of Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is claiming that Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is a confidential adviser whose interactions with the governor should remain secret under New Jersey's executive privilege.
Last month, after New York magazine reported that Ailes met with Christie last summer and called him this year to urge him to run for president, Gawker filed a request under New Jersey's Open Records Act seeking any correspondence between the two men, as well as any records of meetings or phone calls with Ailes from Christie's schedule or call logs.
Last week we received a rather surprising response: While declining to confirm the existence of any such records, Christie's office said they "would be exempt from disclosure...based upon the executive privilege and well-settled case law." In other words, Christie's staff refused to search for any records—which, given the undisputed reports of a dinner and phone call, almost certainly exist—on the basis that Ailes is a confidential adviser whose comments should be shielded from public scrutiny.
New Jersey has a rather robust executive privilege—former Gov. Jon Corzine successfully employed it to keep his email exchanges with his ex-girlfriend and former union boss Carla Katz secret in the face of a public records act request—and there's nothing particularly unusual about Christie invoking it. What is unusual is his attempt to use it to cover conversations with someone who is, ostensibly at least, a news executive. It amounts to a rather bald admission that Ailes provides Christie with political advice.
New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled that the state's executive privilege extends to "communications pertaining to the executive function," a judgment based on the U.S. Supreme Court's recognition of the "president's need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers."
It was obviously never a secret that Ailes, who spent most of his career as a communications guru to right-wing politicians, is still a communications guru to right-wing politicians. But it's strange to see it spelled out in writing.
Christie's office did not respond to questions about the nature of his communications with Ailes and whether the privilege should apply. Ailes said in a statement, "Whatever the Governor wants to do is his business."
It's clear what the governor wants to do in this case. But he wasn't always so interested in secrecy. After Corzine prevailed in his legal battle to keep his emails private, Christie—then a candidate—responded: "In the interest of transparency, if I were governor I would release the e-mails."
[Photos via AP, Getty Images]