Kendall Coffey: Questions Raised for NJ Attorney General Nominee

Kendall Coffey on Rachel Maddow

Kendall Coffey stopped by The Rachel Maddow Show on January 10 to discuss the latest news surrounding Chris Christie and the ongoing controversy surrounding the closing of the bridge to Fort Lee. See below for the full transcription of the interview:

Rachel Maddow: The New Jersey Senate said today they need more time to prepare for Kevin O’Dowd’s confirmation hearing to be the next State Attorney General. Reasonably speaking given this scandal—and Mr. O’Dowd’s name has not surfaced directly with regard to the scandal, I should say—what should happen before they would feel comfortable holding this hearing, much less confirming him?

Kendall Coffey: Well, I think there are at least three areas they have to explore very closely, none of which have been resolved yet. First of all, the question of whether there was any complicity in this outrage. Now, so far no evidence has indicated that he might have been implicated, but until Bridget Kelly is heard from, she would be the one person who could definitively clear him. Other than that he’s…simply going to be in a position of saying self-serving things. Next you’ve got the question of how could all of this happen with him knowing nothing about it. The attorney general is immensely powerful in New Jersey and does a lot of supervision. In fact, supervises all 21 county prosecutors with much more supervisory power than you see in other states. If he’s an empty-suit-not-paying-attention supervisor, is that a great idea? And finally, is there/was there a culture of intimidation or bullying fostered in that office. The last thing you want in a powerful attorney general prosecutor position is somebody who has a mean-streak, somebody who’s vindictive, somebody who’s a bully or would be any part of that kind of mentality.

RM: Somebody who uses the prosecutorial powers of their office potentially as a way of getting their political way or their bosses political way. Absolutely.

Kendall Coffey: And that’s frightening.

RM: Yeah. Because attorney generals have such…leeway. They get to make the decision about whether to prosecute, about whether to investigate. In these documents released today, we got this email from the Port Authority Executives Director Patrick Foye, saying from his perspective, “ I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violated Federal Law and the laws of both States” meaning New York and New Jersey. Now, I’m not a lawyer. When I look at what seemed to be the relevant statute, it seems to me that there is a much clearer case than any criminal misbehavior here. If there is any…it’s a clearer case to make under state law than under federal law, which makes the attorney general all the more important. Is that the way that you see it?

Kendall Coffey: Absolutely. It’s a much stronger case and a clearer case under state law. In fact, the feds might decline simply because they’ll view this as a matter for the New Jersey statutes and the New Jersey prosecutors. And what would that then do to a New Jersey attorney general named Kevin O’Dowd? He has the final say on anything a local prosecutor would do. So if that is not a conflict then it’s hard to imagine one.

RM: Let’s say Mr. O’Dowd were confirmed as attorney general. And let’s say it was widely viewed to be improper for him to be the one prosecuting this particular matter given his role as Chief of Staff during the time these events happened. If those things happened, who else would conduct the investigation? Would the state have to pay for special prosecutor or some sort of external investigator if the attorney general himself couldn’t act?

Kendall Coffey: I think that’s the only way you could responsibly go in this situation. Sometimes in particular cases a chief law enforcement office will assign one of his or her subordinates as an acting attorney general or someone who’s got a specific role and quote “Step out of it.” But the perception here where you’ve got O’Dowd is the boss of the attorney general’s office in the criminal law enforcement system of New Jersey, and was the immediate boss of the alleged architect of this outrage then that’s just a little too much.

Check out the video to Kendall Coffey’s full interview on The Rachel Maddow Show here.