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Democrats fight to get Christie travel records

At least one person in Gov. Christie's entourage really likes Gorgonzola cheese - so much so that he and/or she twice paid 99 cents for extra Gorgonzola on roast beef sandwiches.

At least one person in Gov. Christie's entourage really likes Gorgonzola cheese - so much so that he and/or she twice paid 99 cents for extra Gorgonzola on roast beef sandwiches.

That fondness for zesty Italian cheese is one of few details that can be gleaned from 66 pages of heavily redacted travel documents released by the Governor's Office in late November in response to a request by the Democratic Party.

The Democrats, who made the records available Monday, sought information pertaining to trips by the governor and his staff since Christie took office Jan. 19. The request was submitted last month through the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

"The governor was spending a significant amount of time outside of the state pursuing a political agenda, and I want to make sure the taxpayers of New Jersey are not underwriting the governor's political agenda," said Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski, also a Middlesex County assemblyman.

Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party, appeared at rallies and fund-raisers for gubernatorial and congressional candidates around the nation this fall.

Wisniewski said he was concerned by the Christie administration's "lack of candor."

The records provided, which included receipts, invoices, and memos, offer few details on how money was spent or whether private groups and individuals were reimbursed for items they may have paid for. Much of the information is obscured by what appear to be hand-drawn Sharpie or Magic Marker lines.

Fifty-seven pages of travel confirmations and hotel invoices were denied entirely to the Democrats.

"Certain records have been withheld or redacted on the basis of the executive privilege and the security-risk exception to OPRA," Raymond Brandes, an assistant counsel to the governor who oversees the release of records, wrote in a Nov. 23 letter.

The Democrats plan to appeal the decision and have asked the Governor's Office to explain more fully their reasons for the denials, according to a letter from Peter Nichols, a party attorney.

The records provided showed a couple of reimbursements to the state for what were presumably personal expenses. The governor's wife, Mary Pat Christie, wrote checks totaling $1,796 to repay the state for unknown charges. On a check dated Aug. 22 is a note that it is for "NGA Boston expense." The governor attended the National Governors Association meeting in Boston.

Gov. Christie opened that meeting with a speech that blasted public-employee unions.

It may be that Christie aide Daniel Robles is one of those with a jones for Gorgonzola. A July 27 receipt that included the extra-cheese sandwich bears the notation "Robles lunch." There was no detail on a July 9 receipt for another roast beef with extra Gorgonzola.

The released documents do not say where the governor and his group stayed, the airlines they flew, the cities they visited, or even which restaurants they frequented. That information was redacted.

"If anyone wants to appeal [the document-request] process, they're welcome to do that," Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, said Monday. In each case where information was denied, "there are legal bases that are reasonable and well founded."

Drewniak declined to elaborate on specific objections to providing the material.

In November, the Justice Department's inspector general criticized Christie for exceeding government allotments for travel when Christie was New Jersey's U.S. attorney. Travel became a minor issue in the 2009 governor's race, with Christie saying he exceeded the prescribed allotments only when he could not find a hotel at the less-expensive governmental rate.

The Justice Department report said Christie inadequately documented when and where he was unable to find the less-expensive lodging.

If the struggle between a governor and the opposing political party over records sounds familiar, it is.

In 2008, Gov. Jon S. Corzine fought for months with the Republican Party over releasing e-mail between himself and his ex-girlfriend Carla Katz, a former union leader.

Corzine, a Democrat, and Katz exchanged the e-mail while Katz was negotiating a contract for state workers.

The news media also sought the e-mail exchanges and were denied. Sources eventually leaked some of the exchanges, which included inquiries about the well-being of relatives and which reporters were covering the contract talks, in addition to other mundane matters.

The Inquirer also made an OPRA request for information about Christie's travel records. Brandes denied news organization's request in its entirety.

The Democrats at least got to learn about the Gorgonzola cheese.