Let’s Take a Deep Breath Before We Attack Trump (Barry’s) Integrity

A hot take on hot takes can get a little touchy, but I question the idea out there this afternoon that the mere “appearance of a conflict of interest” means Judge Maryanne Trump Barry should recuse herself from any decision to detail co-conspirators in the Governor Chris Christie-associated Bridgegate case.

Judge (Trump) Barry is a well-respected jurist who has ably served on the Federal bench since her appointment by President Reagan (and elevation to the Court of Appeals by President Clinton). I get the easy conflict-of-appearance. But by all accounts, Judge Trump has conducted herself with rectitude for decades. As a longtime “oppo guy,” I presume we’d have heard more than Ted Cruz’s lame allegations about her if there were any real doubts about Judge Barry’s integrity.

One immediate concern: if Judge Barry recuses herself baselessly, might that open old cases up for appeal? Since I left Mike Bloomberg’s City Hall, I’ve worked with many lawyers. Their job is to press their client’s cases as aggressively as possible. If a judge recuses herself when she really shouldn’t only because of “appearances,” lots of other people who appeared before her could (and will) make a similar case.

More important: this isn’t a conflict and it isn’t even the appearance of a conflict. At worst, there’s the appearance of a potential conflict, and that potential conflict presumes that Judge Barry would give up her reputation for ethics and fairness earned over more than 30 years on the bench to help a guy who has recently helped her brother.

Let’s look more closely at that. Accepting the possibility of this quo-pro-quid argument for a second, who gets more out of Christie helping Trump — Trump or Christie? I think Christie does. Trump didn’t need his endorsement — it was nice, but inevitable. It didn’t get him any actual votes or much establishment love. Trump sure doesn’t need Christie’s help finding talent for the White House. And as Claude Brodesser-Akner has quoted me saying, the latter part of Christie’s run for President and his subsequent Trump endorsement are really just plays to be considered for a high-level post in the next Republican administration.

Even if Judge Trump Barry were influenceable, why would she be in this case? Trump owes Christie nothing — it’s Christie who is sucking up to Trump.

If we’re going to entertain dubious ideas, here’s a contrary one: what if Governor Christie, who has been paying closer attention to this case than most of us have, has some reason to NOT want Judge Barry Trump on the case? Perhaps he doesn’t want a judge with great integrity deciding his fate. What if the Governor endorsed Trump with the hope that the press would eventually make the easy connection between Christie, Trump, and Trump Barry — and then hound her off the case?

This sounds like something from House of Cards, but is it at least possible that Christie is trying to manipulate the media here? In my view, it’s potentially more likely that Christie has figured out a clever judge-shopping scheme than a respected judge will compromise herself because someone sucked up to her brother.

I included some links to my past above, but some caveats and disclosures: I’m a former chief spokesperson for both Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Senator Chuck Schumer, and I started my career defending President Clinton’s AmeriCorps from Republican-led attempts to shut it down. I’ve helped steer different projects (some large, some tiny) with Secretary Clinton, Governor Christie and Donald Trump.

I’d like to know who the Bridgegate un-indicted co-conspirators are, but I don’t think we need to smear an able Federal judge to do that.

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