The New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board has consistently pointed to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) as the candidate best suited to protect the country from threats, stressing his work on terrorism cases as a former US attorney. However, experts disagree with the paper, noting Christie's record and experience do not amount to significant anti-terror bona fides.
In its November 28 endorsement of Christie, the Union Leader suggested he was the candidate that "is right for these dangerous times" as he has "prosecuted terrorists and dealt admirably with major disasters." When critics claimed Christie was overselling his experience, the Union Leader fired back in a December 22 editorial, defending Christie's boasts that "we prosecuted two of the biggest terrorism cases in the world":
Critics of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are upset that he's sharing his experiences prosecuting terrorists with New Hampshire voters.
We're not sure whether they're mad that Christie won convictions of suspected terrorists, or that he thinks New Hampshire voters might find this relevant. Perhaps both.
Christie served as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey from 2002 to 2008. He formed a terrorism unit to work with the FBI to root out Islamic extremists before they could attack, including a plot to strike Fort Dix and an attempt to sell a shoulder-fired missile to an undercover FBI agent. These were bad people who wanted to do bad things. Christie put them in jail before they could.
In addition, a January 5 column by editorial page editor Grant Bosse again cited Christie's "focus on anti-terrorism cases" as a unique trait that sets him apart from the GOP field. The editorial board and its surrogates have largely been parroting the candidate who has similarly relied on his prosecuting record as qualifying national defense experience during recent debates.
However, fact checkers have disagreed with Christie's description of his record that the Union Leader has parroted, noting that he "arguably made more of a name for himself" as U.S. attorney "for prosecuting corrupt politicians (his office successfully prosecuted more than 130 public officials) than terrorists." The Daily Beast reported that while his record against corruption is more robust, his "antiterror resume is rather short":
As for actual terrorism cases, there are only two: Hemant Lakhani in 2005, a 71-year-old (now-deceased) British citizen who had been recorded saying he "was willing to broker the sale of shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down American passenger jets" and the "Fort Dix Six" in 2007, when five Islamic men and their gun dealer were arrested for allegedly plotting to kill U.S. soldiers "at various installations, including the Fort Dix Army a base in New Jersey."
In both cases, FBI informants played central roles in nailing the suspects, leading some critics to suggest the charges were the results of entrapment.
The Lakhani case was the subject of a 2009 This American Life installment, which painted the portrait of Lakhani as a hapless charlatan who had stumbled into the FBI's trap despite possessing no ability to broker missiles of any kind. The Fort Dix case was torn apart and dissected by The Intercept in 2015, where reporters Murtaza Hussain and Razan Ghalayini made the case that the FBI worked overtime to convince the accused men to agree to commit terrorist attacks that Christie and his office then "thwarted."
Jonathan Hafetz, former litigation director at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, told NJ.com that the Governor's promotion of his anti-terrorism record shows he is "clearly trying to rebrand himself in making a run for the White House."
Christie also came under fire for the timeline of his record after saying in the September Republican debate that he "was appointed U.S. Attorney by President Bush on Sept. 10, 2001." Politifact found that statement to be "mostly false." While Christie may have received word of a pending nomination prior to 9/11, he wasn't nominated until months after the attacks and wasn't sworn in as US attorney until January of 2002.
Christie's national security policy proposals introduced during his run for president have included a call to re-authorize less restrictive rules on the bulk collection of phone records -- which the administration already has access to -- and the blocking of Syrian refugees including "orphans under age five" in order to stop terror threats against the United States, which experts agree would be harmful to US foreign policy and its goal to stop the influence of ISIS.
The Union Leader's mimicking of Christie's tough but dubious anti-terror talk continues the paper's blind defense of the governor, even as those from his home state denounce his record of failed economic policies and scandal.