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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Undisclosed Law Firm Contribution To Christie's RGA Defeats Independence Claim


It was just revealed Tuesday that law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher gave $10,000 to the Republican Governors' Association, now headed by Governor Chris Christie, just nine days before the firm issued its internal investigation report.  (See my critique of that report here.)

Similar arrangements are often derided in political commentary as "pay to play." This is an obvious line of attack and criticism that you will hear in coming days. 

However, the real issue here is the law firm's failure to disclose this material fact that bears directly on the firm's supposed independence.  Make no mistake about it.  This substantial campaign contribution reflects directly on the firm's ability to avoid an appearance of impropriety or compromised independence.  Moreover, the firm's international reach, billing rates and institutional knowledge all argue strongly against any presumption that the failure to disclose was an inadvertent omission. In fact, these facts all support the inference that the failure to disclose could not possibly be inadvertent but rather, that it had to be conscious, deliberate and willful.

This brings us to the next shocking implication. This one has serious, criminal implications. This failure to disclose becomes even more significant, because the nondisclosure was committed in connection with the report that was given to the United States Attorney's Office.  I can see federal prosecutors questioning whether the failure to disclose was an intentional omission, not just an oversight or clerical error, and whether it was part of a plan not just to zealously advocate for the Governor's Office but to shield information (if not evidence) in order to mislead the United States Attorney's Office.  The legal consequences could be significant, and very adverse.

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