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Trump poised to nominate Christie ally for U.S. attorney in complex political deal

President Trump is expected to nominate federal district court judges favored by New Jersey's two Democratic U.S. senators. In turn, the two senators are expected to sign off on the nomination of criminal-defense attorney Craig Carpenito as U.S. attorney.

President Trump is expected to nominate an ally of Gov. Christie’s to be U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
President Trump is expected to nominate an ally of Gov. Christie’s to be U.S. attorney for New Jersey.Read moreAP Photo / Evan Vucci, File

Gov. Christie's former colleague and Bridgegate attorney has emerged as the leading contender to be New Jersey's next U.S. attorney, five people familiar with the matter said, underscoring how the Republican governor still wields considerable influence with the Trump administration despite the public's strong disapproval of his performance at home.

The selection of the state's top federal law enforcement officer is part of a broader game of political horse trading playing out behind the scenes in Washington, Trenton, and New York. At the end of it, a half-dozen people will win jobs in law enforcement and on the federal courts that affect millions.

President Trump, a Republican, is expected to nominate federal District Court judges favored by New Jersey's two Democratic U.S. senators, Cory A. Booker and Bob Menendez. In turn, the two senators are expected to sign off on the nomination of criminal defense attorney Craig Carpenito as U.S. attorney, and another Christie ally is also in line for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, appears to have set aside his highly publicized animus toward Christie in allowing Carpenito's nomination to proceed. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump ally, is also involved in the negotiations, according to one of the sources.

Giuliani had been a key backer of another contender for the New Jersey U.S. attorney slot, Geoffrey S. Berman, but Berman now appears headed to an even more high-profile post. He is reported to be the leading candidate to become U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, an office that handles insider-trading cases on Wall Street and international terrorism.

For the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, another Christie ally, Paul Matey, is being vetted for that judgeship, the sources said. The negotiations go as far as to include U.S. marshals positions.

The sources described the maneuvering on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private talks.

One of the sources said he was interviewed by the FBI with regard to Carpenito and Matey, a former federal prosecutor who was Christie's deputy chief counsel in the governor's office, as part of the bureau's routine vetting process.

The final details of a potential deal are still pending, but are aimed in part at breaking a logjam set up by competing Republican power brokers and New Jersey's two Democratic senators, who under Senate tradition can block nominees in their home state, giving them leverage to seek their own choices for some openings despite GOP control of the White House and Congress.

The biggest prize is U.S. attorney. That office works with the FBI to investigate and prosecute such cases as public corruption, drug trafficking, cybercrime, and terrorism, setting priorities for high-profile prosecutions.

After watching President Barack Obama's appointee prosecute some of Christie's top allies, the governor is playing a leading role in installing a successor.

Carpenito, a partner with Alston & Bird LLP, helped Christie fend off a citizen's criminal complaint last year about his alleged role in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal.

He may now land a job that provides a high-profile political platform. When Christie held the post, from 2002 to 2008, he prosecuted scores of politicians and developed a corruption-busting reputation that helped propel him to the governor's office in 2010. Giuliani, too, was a U.S. attorney and a high-ranking Department of Justice official, giving both men deep ties to the offices they are now trying to shape.

As recently as May, Christie faced headwinds from the White House. As U.S. attorney, Christie oversaw the prosecution of Kushner's father, Charles, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser and real-estate developer, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other charges, and was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005.

Jared Kushner had opposed Christie's pick, Carpenito, and instead lent his support to Berman, a former federal prosecutor who served on Trump's transition team. Berman had backing from Giuliani – both are shareholders at the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP.

For months, Berman was the leading contender to be U.S. attorney in New Jersey. But that appears to have shifted in the past month, with Berman now in line to lead the higher-profile office in Manhattan.

That leaves an opening for Carpenito, 44, who worked under Christie as an assistant U.S. attorney in the office's securities and health care fraud unit.

He was also senior counsel in the Securities and Exchange Commission's New York office.

Carpenito and Berman declined to comment. Matey, 46, now senior vice president and general counsel at University Hospital in Newark, could not be reached early Thursday.

In pushing Carpenito for the post, Christie got all five of New Jersey's GOP congressmen to sign a letter backing his ally.

But the nomination also requires sign off from Booker and Menendez. Two people familiar with the talks stressed that the two Democrats would not sign off on the nominations until the full package is agreed to, including their own judicial picks.

Booker is seeking the renomination and confirmation of a long-stalled ally, Julien Neals, who was nominated to a District Court position in February 2015 but never confirmed by the Senate. As mayor of Newark, Booker tapped Neals for several posts. Now Neals is the Bergen County counsel.

Though relatively young, Carpenito would bring experience to the job.

As an assistant U.S. attorney, Carpenito successfully prosecuted Walter Forbes, the former chairman of Cendant Corp., for accounting fraud.

When the fraud was discovered in 1998, the company's market value dropped $14 billion, making it one of the largest accounting scandals on record.

It took three trials, but Forbes was eventually found guilty by a federal jury in 2006 of conspiracy and submitting false reports to the SEC. He was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison.