Today, with the help of the New Jersey ACLU, Gawker filed a civil complaint against the office of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie under the state's Open Records Act. We're seeking records of Christie's communications with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Christie claims they should remain secret under the state's executive privilege. We disagree.
Update: That was quick. Hours after we filed our complaint, Christie's office sent me what they call a "supplemental response" to my initial request: "[D]espite the fact that these records are exempt from disclosure on the basis of the executive privilege... this office has reviewed its records to identify any records that may be responsive to your request. We are providing you with a record indicating a schedule entry for a private dinner attended by the Governor and Mr. Ailes." The schedule entry merely shows a 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. dinner attended by Christie and his wife in "REDACTED, New York" on September 11, 2010.
Christie's office insists that the schedule entry is the only responsive record it has. Our attorneys have responded asking Christie's office to certify as to the truth of that claim in court. If it does, we'll withdraw the complaint. We have no earthly idea why Christie would go so far as to invoke executive privilege to keep one lousy schedule entry, concerning a dinner that had already been reported, secret.
It's clear from Gabriel Sherman's reporting in New York magazine that Christie and Ailes have a relationship. They have dined together at Ailes' weekend home in Putnam County, N.Y., and Ailes reportedly called Christie last summer and urged him to run for president. In May, we filed an open records request looking for any correspondence between the men, as well as any entries in call logs or schedules that might shed light on the nature of their contacts. A similar request we filed with Mississippi revealed that Ailes met with Republican Governors Association chairman Haley Barbour shortly after News Corporation donated $1 million to the RGA.
Christie's response surprised us: His office claimed that any records detailing his relationship with Ailes—if they exist—would be covered by executive privilege, which in New Jersey is designed to protect "the sensitive decisional and consultative responsibilities" of the governor from prying eyes. The good people at the New Jersey ACLU were surprised, too, and they swiftly contacted us with an offer to pursue the request in court pro bono.
In our view, Christie can't justifiably invoke executive privilege to keep secret his conversations with an ostensible news executive who runs the nation's largest cable news network. At the very least, he owes us a detailed accounting of what documents, precisely, he wants to keep secret and to what extent Roger Ailes' conversations with him constitute the sort of sensitive consultations that executive privilege is designed to protect.
You can read the complaint here, and you can read some coverage of the filing here and here. Here is the New Jersey ACLU's press release on the filing. We'll update you on the case as it proceeds. Now go join the New Jersey ACLU.
[Photos via Getty Images]