Mark Halperin and John Heilemann have a new book out called Double Down: Game Change 2012 about the 2012 election and it includes some interesting details about the vetting of potential vice-presidential candidates by the Romney campaign. But let’s start with this fascinating little tidbit from Time’s excerpt from the book:
Myers set up her operation in a third-floor office on Boston’s Commercial Street that became known as “the clean room.” Because the Romney campaign’s servers were under continual assault by Chinese hackers, the computers in the clean room were not connected to the Internet. Myers insisted that the team be extremely cautious about what they put in e-mail when using their regular computers. Ted Newton and Chris Oman, two veep background checkers, concluded it was best to communicate in code. Based on their junk-food-saturated vetting diet, they called their undertaking Project Goldfish (after the crackers)—ultimately giving each of the VP finalists an aquatic code name. Myers’ plan was to have Project Goldfish completed by Memorial Day. In April she presented Romney with a list of two dozen names, which he whittled down to 11: Kelly Ayotte, John Cornyn, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Bill Frist, Mike Huckabee, Bob McDonnell, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan.
Within a month, the vetters had assembled preliminary research books on the 11, which Romney perused and then rendered his short list: Christie (Pufferfish), Pawlenty (Lakefish), Portman (Filet o Fish), Rubio (Pescado) and Ryan (Fishconsin).
Those are hilarious. Now to some of the details about Chris Christie that kept Romney from picking him as his VP candidate and could prove problematic in a 2016 presidential run:
He was also a fundraising dynamo, but he and his staff were overbearing and hard to work with, demanding in ways that would have been unthinkable from any other surrogate. Months earlier, Christie had banned Romney from raising money in New Jersey until Christie had given the O.K. to do so—a move Romney found galling, like something out of The Sopranos. Are you kidding me, Mitt thought. He’s going to do that? There were plenty of New Jersey donors who’d given money to Mitt in 2008; now Christie was trying to impose a gag order on talking to them? “He sounds like the biggest asshole in the world,” Stevens griped to his partner, Russ Shriefer. More recently, Trenton insisted on private jets, lavish spreads of food, space for a massive entourage. Romney ally Wayne Berman looked at the bubble around Christie and thought, He’s not the President of the United States, you know.
The list of questions Myers and her team had for Christie was extensive and troubling. More than once, Myers reported back that Trenton’s response was, in effect, Why do we need to give you that piece of information? Myers told her team, We have to assume if they’re not answering, it’s because the answer is bad.
The vetters were stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record. There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons. There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official—and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing. There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race. Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.” (Todd also oversaw a family foundation whose activities and purpose raised eyebrows among the vetters.) And all that was on top of a litany of glaring matters that sparked concern on Myers’ team: Christie’s other lobbying clients, his investments overseas, the YouTube clips that helped make him a star but might call into doubt his presidential temperament, and the status of his health.
Ted Newton, managing Project Goldfish under Myers, had come into the vet liking Christie for his brashness and straight talk. Now, surveying the sum and substance of what the team was finding, Newton told his colleagues, If Christie had been in the nomination fight against us, we would have destroyed him—he wouldn’t be able to run for governor again. When you look below the surface, Newton said, it’s not pretty.
I’m sure Hillary Clinton’s aides are paying close attention, as are potential Republican primary candidates.