Gawker Entertainment LLC sued New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over his refusal to release records of communications between him and Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes.
Christie’s office invoked executive privilege in denying a request by the New York-based blog. The governor had declined to release any correspondence, call log or schedule entries and written messages reflecting contacts between the men, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which represents Gawker. Today, Christie’s office confirmed a dinner meeting between the governor and Ailes.
The governor’s response today will likely resolve the lawsuit, the ACLU said in a statement on its website.
“We’re happy to see the matter resolved quickly but remain concerned that the governor’s office initially issued a blanket executive privilege claim in response to Gawker’s request for records,” Frank Corrado, a lawyer representing Gawker journalist John Cook on behalf of the ACLU, said in the statement. “Is the governor’s office actually reviewing records requests from the public, or is it simply using executive privilege as a carte blanche to deny access to all correspondence with his office?”
Cook sought the information under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act after New York magazine reported that Ailes, a former Republican strategist, had encouraged Christie, 48, to join the U.S. presidential race. The magazine reported Ailes, 71, who is also chief executive officer of Fox, hosted Christie, a first-term Republican, at a 2010 dinner.
“A strong public interest exists in knowing whether the executive in charge of the nation’s most-watched cable news channel is acting as a political consultant to a prospective Republican presidential candidate,” Gawker said in the complaint, filed today in state Superior Court in Trenton, New Jersey.
Brian Lewis, a Fox spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the suit. Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s New York-based News Corp.
Cook sent a May 25 request to Christie’s office, which Jeffrey Chiesa, Christie’s chief counsel, denied on June 14, citing executive privilege. The governor’s office release today revealed a scheduling note detailing a private dinner at an undisclosed location in New York on Sept. 11, 2010 involving Ailes, along with Christie and his wife Mary Pat.
The records are covered by executive privilege and the release was done “without any waiver of the right to assert that privilege or any other privilege with respect to this matter or any other matter,” Assistant Counsel Raymond Brandes wrote. “This office is in possession of no other records responsive to your request.”
The meeting wasn’t on the governor’s public schedule for the day.
“There’s clearly a strong executive privilege in New Jersey, but we want to insure that the privilege is invoked properly, and when it’s invoked, there is a basis for invoking it,” said Corrado of Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson, the president of the board of the ACLU of New Jersey, said in an interview.
The case is Gawker Entertainment v. Chiesa, MER-L-1919-11, Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer County (Trenton).