TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was sued Monday over his administration’s refusal to release correspondence between the president of Fox News and the governor or his staff after a report that the head of the network tried to persuade the first-term GOP governor to run for president in 2012 last summer.
Fox News President Roger Ailes has denied urging Christie to run for president. But speculation continues over whether Christie would jump into the race, even though he has repeatedly said he will not.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed suit Monday on behalf of John Cook, a reporter for Gawker Entertainment LLC, who sought the information under state’s Open Public Records Law.
The governor’s office initially refused to confirm any records existed and said that, if they did, they would be exempt from state’s open records law based on “executive privilege” as a reason to withhold records from the public. Executive privilege is intended to protect the governor and other elected officials from disclosing records that contain advice to them about their official public duties.
After the lawsuit was filed Monday, the governor’s office denied that there were any other records besides a calendar entry.
“Please be advised that this office is in possession of no other records responsive to your request,” Raymond Brandes, an attorney for the governor, said in a letter sent to the ACLU and Cook on Monday
In the letter, Christie’s office confirmed that he and his wife, Mary Pat, attended a private dinner on Sept. 11, 2010, in New York but declined to comment beyond the letter.
A New York Magazine story in May reported that Ailes, like many others, tried to persuade Christie to run against President Barack Obama in 2012. Following that article, Gawker’s Cook filed the public records request.
Ailes, who created Fox, the network of choice for many Republican viewers, in 1996, is a former media consultant for Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“The public has a right to know whether the head of America’s most-watched cable news channel is advising a sitting governor on state matters,” Gawker’s Cook said in a statement. “If the emails on the state system between the governor and Ailes don’t relate to Christie’s functions as governor, then they can’t be hidden from the public.”
In its filings, the ACLU-NJ argues that for executive privilege to be invoked the governor must include an index of potential records and explanation of why executive privilege applies to a judge to privately examine.
“New Jersey needs a system in place to separate executive privilege from carte blanche,” ACLU president Frank Corrado, who is representing Cook, said in a statement. “Executive privilege exists to help a governor carry out constitutional obligations, not to diminish the constitutional right to a free press.”
Emails sent to Fox News seeking comment not returned on Monday.
Christie was due in Iowa on Monday to speak at an education conference and headline a political fundraiser for a congressman. The trip did little to quell the presidential talk.