Former New Jersey governor, Chris Christie is at it again, making the rounds promoting his new book, Let Me Finish. Unsurprisingly, Christie paints himself as a misunderstood do-gooder, claiming that if he hadn’t been ousted from Trump’s transition teamdue to prosecuting Jared Kushner’s father, the White House would not be the chaotic revolving door it now is.
I have no plans to buy or read his book. If fact, I’m thrilled Christie finally faced a serious consequence for wrongful prosecutions during his stint as U.S. attorney in New Jersey – and these ones have nothing to do with Jared Kushner’s father.
Long before he endorsed the candidate who openly claimed, “Islam hates us,” and called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, Christie was busy prosecuting manufactured terrorism cases against unsuspecting Muslims in New Jersey to position himself as tough on terrorism, anticipating running for higher office later.
In 2005, Christie boasted his office’s successful prosecution of Hemant Lakhani, a nearly seventy-year old Indian ex-pat, on weapons brokering charges, claiming the world was now a safer place. Not only was this untrue, the entrapment of Lakhani was an alarming affront to civil liberties with the government playing a significant role on every side of the transaction.
In that case, a Pakistani informant who’d been deactivated in the 90’s due to lying and swindling a DEA agent to the tune of twenty-five thousand, mysteriously joined the FBI’s counterterrorism unit after 9/11. The informant asked Lakhani to acquire weapons for him and when the old man wasn’t able to find a weapons dealer, the government provided one. Investigative journalist Petra Bartosiewicz summarized the transaction succinctly, “Lakhani had bought a fake missile, from a fake arms dealer, and delivered it to a fake terrorist.” For this, Lakhani was sentenced to 47 years in prison. He died there in 2013.
Two years later, Christie pedaled a similar myth claiming law enforcement had foiled a terrorist plot, “to bring a violent attack upon military and civilian personnel at Fort Dix here at the state of New Jersey.” He touted both stings during the Republican presidential primaries, positioning himself as the candidate who’d “fought terrorists and won.”
Christie continues to obscure the reality of the sixteen-month sting and overstate his credentials. In the Fort Dix Five case, two informants, one who’d attempted murder in Albania and fled to the United States to avoid a blood feud and the other a serial con artist who was paid nearly a quarter million dollars in exchange for cooperating with the FBI, worked in tandem to entrap a group of five Muslim men on conspiracy charges.
The group consisted of three brothers, a young man related to the three by marriage, and one of their friends. Christie claimed the group settled on attacking Fort Dix because one of the men delivered pizzas there.This, like many others, was a half-truth.
Serdar Tatar had delivered pizzas to the base. His father owned a pizzeria nearby where Tatar worked. However, Christie conveniently omitted that Tatar contacted the FBI six months prior to his arrest, warning them of a potential terrorist attack on the base. The person he claimed was interested in harming the country was Mahmoud Omar, one of the two informants. Omar was the only person pressuring him for information about the base.
During trial, the prosecution failed to produce a single piece of direct evidence despite the overwhelming amount of surveillance collected – including hundreds of hours of informant based recordings, thousands of FISA wiretaps, amongst others – showing the men agreed to attack the base. The five men never met to discuss an attack, nor did they look at a map of Fort Dix together, or settle on any specific targets.
In the absence of direct evidence, Christie’s office capitalized off the post 9/11 hysteria and presented the jury with inflammatory videos found on one of the target’s computers – 95 percent of which were downloaded off public internet search engines after one of the informants began requesting videos repeatedly. What should’ve been protected under the First Amendment was used by the prosecution to argue evidence of intent.
The jury agreed. Four of the men are currently serving life sentences, while Tatar serves his thirty-three-year sentence in spite of contacting the FBI to warn them of a potential terrorist attack involving the informant.
Christie’s prosecutions have led to devastating consequences, not only for the families directly affected by the informant-entrapment-schemes, but also for minority Muslim communities, which are already under increased surveillance and public scrutiny.
New Jersey residents shut the door on Christie’s political punditry, leaving him with a fifteen percent approval rating, the lowest in recorded history for a New Jersey governor. The rest of America should follow suit – we know better than to give him another pulpit.
Huma Yasin is an attorney, author of the forthcoming book, Conspiracy: The True Story of the Fort Dix Five, and co-founder of Facing Abuse in Community Environments. She also serves on the board of CAIR-DFW and is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project