TIME Supreme Court

The Robert Menendez Corruption Charges Undermine the Supreme Court

Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.
Mark Wilson–Getty Images Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.

The Supreme Court said super PACs aren't prone to corruption. Prosecutors are alleging otherwise in a case against Sen. Robert Menendez.

Correction appended, April 2

In his 2010 State of the Union, President Obama famously criticized the Supreme Court’s logic on a campaign finance decision even as several justices sat in the audience.

Now, prosecutors at the U.S. Justice Department have found an even better way to make the case.

In their indictment of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, prosecutors have called foul on one of the central arguments for the court’s interpretation of campaign finance law in the Citizens United decision.

The indictment alleges that Florida opthamologist Solomon Melgen corruptly showered Menedez with gifts intended to influence official acts, from procuring visas for his foreign girlfriends to intervening in a dispute over Medicare billing. Among those things of value, according to prosecutors, was $600,000 in donations from Melgen’s company, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, earmarked to help Menedez’s reelection through a super PAC called Majority PAC.

Those donations came two years after Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a majority of the court in Citizens United v. FEC, ruled that such contributions to outside groups not directly controlled by candidates presented no risk of corruption or the appearance of corruption.

“This Court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Kennedy wrote. “That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”

This argument was central to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow outside groups to collect and spend unlimited amounts of money to explicitly call for the election and defeat of a candidate for federal office. Since the money technically went to an organization not controlled by the candidate, the court reasoned, there was no sufficient government interest to stop it.

The indictment of Menendez, however, reveals in great detail the extent to which “independent” groups like Majority PAC have found ways to operate in close coordination with the candidate. And if Menendez is convicted, the case will prove that corruption can still be facilitated through these outside groups.

“The Citizens United court majority was obviously wrong in 2010 when it declared that independent expenditures can’t corrupt,” says Paul Ryan, an attorney for the Campaign Legal Center, who has long been critical of the decision. “Now we have concrete alleged evidence of how independent expenditures do corrupt.”

The indictment alleges that Melgen gave the money to support Menendez in two checks of $300,000. The first check was given on June 1, 2012, the very day when Melgen served on the host committee of Menendez’s annual fundraising event in New Jersey. Melgen allegedly gave the check to “a close personal friend” of the Senator at the fundraiser, who sent the check by FedEx to a person working to raise money for Majority PAC with a note saying “earmarked for New Jersey.” (That clearly meant Menendez. Majority PAC focused its spending on Democratic Senate races, and he was the only Democratic Senate candidate that year from New Jersey.)

Melgen issued a second check on October 12, 2012, less than a month before the election, prosecutors allege. An email from a fundraiser that accompanied the second check also read “earmarked for New Jersey.”

About six days after Melgen issued the first check, Menendez allegedly advocated on Melgen’s behalf in a Medicare billing dispute with the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. About a month later, Menendez sought a meeting with the Secretary of Health and Human Services to discuss Melgen’s concerns.

“During Menendez’s meeting with the Secretary of HHS, Menendez advocated on behalf of Melgen’s position in his Medicare billing dispute, focusing on Melgen’s specific case and asserting that Melgen was being treated unfairly,” the indictment reads. “The Secretary of HHS disagreed with Menendez’s position.”

After Melgen gave the second $300,000 check, Melgen separately emailed Menendez and a fundraiser for Senate Majority PAC a document asking again for Health and Human Services to intervene on his behalf in the Medicare billing dispute, the indictment claims. The fundraiser for the Senate Majority PAC wrote back by email that he would pass the information on to another senator, identified in the legal documents as Senator 3. “Dear Sal, I’m going to see him on Tuesday. I will give this to him directly. Is that ok?”

Menendez has maintained this innocence, and says he plans to fight the charges.

Correction: This post initially misidentified the senator that a fundraiser for Senate Majority PAC promised to communicate with on Melgen’s behalf.

Read next: New Jersey Senator Faces Corruption Charges

TIME 2016 Election

The Problem With Hillary Clinton’s Email Record Search

A top lawyer says the procedure Clinton used to identify work-related documents on her email server did not meet best practices

A top expert on federal record-keeping policy criticized the method Hillary Clinton’s lawyers used to determine which emails to forward to the State Department for archiving.

Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker, Biddle and Reath and former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, said that Clinton’s team should have manually reviewed every email she sent on a personal email account to find which ones pertained to government business.

Instead, as Clinton revealed Tuesday, her attorneys searched the trove of emails for certain email addresses and subjects. Baron argued that raises the possibility that they missed some emails that should have been saved for the public record.

“There is an outstanding question, and it is a legitimate question, about whether she has now handed over all records pertaining to government business,” Baron says. “For example, in the case of an email that is mostly personal in nature but also contains a sentence or paragraph related to government business, then that email is a government record appropriate for preservation at the State Department, and should not continue to be withheld.”

MORE How to Email Like Hillary Clinton

On December 5, Clinton’s office submitted printed copies of 30,490 work-related emails to the State Department in response to an October records request issued to four former Secretaries of State. The correspondence, which amounted to some 55,000 printed pages, represented less than half of the 62,320 emails sent and received from Clinton’s private email account during her tenure in Foggy Bottom from March 2009 to February 2013. Clinton said during a press conference at the United Nations Wednesday afternoon that the remainder of the emails were personal in nature and thus did not have to be turned over.

As part of a nine-page statement released after the former Secretary’s press conference at the United Nations Wednesday afternoon, Clinton’s office detailed the “multi-step” process her counsel used to determine which emails it was required to submit to State. “Secretary Clinton directed her attorneys to assist by identifying and preserving all emails that could potentially be federal records,” her office said.

First, the lawyers searched all emails with a “.gov” email address in any address field, which yielded 27,500 emails—more than 90% of the total correspondence ultimately provided to State.

Next they searched for the first and last names of more than 100 State Department and other U.S. government officials. “This included all Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Ambassadors-at-Large, Special Representatives and Envoys, members of the Secretary’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board, and other senior officials to the Secretary, including close aides and staff,” Clinton’s office says. Then they sorted and checked for “misspellings or other idiosyncrasies” to locate documents the search might have missed.

Finally, they performed a search for specific keywords, including “Benghazi” and “Libya.” It is not clear how many such terms were used as filters.

MORE How Hillary Clinton Fared the First Time She Was in the Hot Seat

Clinton’s office said the method was exhaustive. “These additional three steps yielded just over another 2,900 emails, including emails from former Administration officials and long-time friends that may not be deemed by the Department to be federal records,” it said in the statement. “And hundreds of these emails actually had already been forwarded onto the state.gov system and captured in real- time.”

But Baron argues that using keywords as a shortcut raises the possibility that some work-related emails slipped through the cracks. “I would question why lawyers for Secretary Clinton would use keyword searching, a method known to be fraught with limitations, to determine which of the emails with a non-.gov address pertained to government business,” he says. “Any and all State Department activities, not just communications involving the keywords ‘Benghazi’ or ‘Libya’, would potentially make an email a federal record.”

“If the lawyers had more than a few days to conduct a search, given the high stakes involved and the fact that only on the order of 30,000 emails with non .gov addresses remained to be reviewed after clearly .gov federal records were separated out, I would have imagined staff could have simply conducted a manual review of every document,” Baron adds. “Using keywords as a shortcut unfortunately leaves the process open to being second-guessed.”

Read next: Transcript: Everything Hillary Clinton Said on the Email Controversy

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

Republicans in Congress Focus on Possible Gaps in Hillary Clinton Emails

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli on Oct. 18, 2011.
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli on Oct. 18, 2011.

The Republican investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of private email has begun to focus on whether she appropriately turned over all the emails that she sent or received about government business to the State Department.

“There are gaps of months and months and months,” said South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chief congressional Benghazi investigator, on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, pointing specifically to an October 2011 trip to Libya when she was photographed using her Blackberry. “And if you think to that iconic picture of her on a C-17 flying to Libya, she has sunglasses on and she has her handheld device in her hand, we have no e-mails from that day. In fact, we have no e-mails from that trip.”

Under Obama Administration policy, officials are told to conduct their business principally on official email. If they use private emails accounts, they are instructed to forward emails that are federal records onto their federal accounts. Clinton opted for a different approach by conducting all her business on private accounts and then selecting those that concerned federal business after she left office and sending them to the State Department.

Experts on federal email record-keeping say that how Clinton handled them is a meaty topic.

“There is an outstanding question, and it is a legitimate question, about whether she has now handed over all records pertaining to government business,” says Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle and Reath and former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration. “For example, in the case of an email that is mostly personal in nature but also contains a sentence or paragraph related to government business, then that email is a government record appropriate for preservation at the State Department, and should not continue to be withheld.”

U.S. law gives a broad definition of what constitutes a federal record, including “all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of data in them.”

Based on that law, Baron says the timing of when Clinton turned over the emails could matter too.

“In my view Secretary Clinton and the State Department were out of compliance on the day she left office, as federal records created on her private network had not been transferred and preserved in an official recordkeeping system as of that date,” he says. “It appears that she came into compliance only after the State Department requested a return of the government’s records.”

Clinton left the State Department in February 2013 but finished handing over about 55,000 pages of emails in only the past few months. She has since called on the State Department to review those records to determine which are appropriate for release to the public, a process that could take months.

Gowdy, who says he wants “everything” related to Libya and Benghazi, said Sunday that he had “lost confidence” in the State Department to determine what is public record and advocated for “a neutral, detached arbiter” to decide. Some outside experts in federal record-keeping practices agree that an outside review is needed.

“To be fair, as a practical matter, on a day-to-day basis individual employees do make decisions about whether a certain email will be put in a file or whether a certain document is a personal document,” says Doug Cox, a law professor at the City University of New York School. “However the question of the record status of an entire archive of emails sent and received by someone who was the Secretary of State have to be treated differently and especially given the highly questionable, if not illegal, practice of sequestering federal records in a private email system even after leaving the position, I really think there needs to be an independent review of the larger pool of emails, perhaps both by the State Department and the Archivist.”

Even if the Administration doesn’t set up an independent review, Gowdy has done his part keeping the issue in the spotlight, subpoenaing all Clinton emails related to the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi over Democratic objections. Robert Luskin, a lawyer who deflected a congressional subpoena request for George W. Bush political advisor Karl Rove under executive privilege concerns, says that an investigation into the former Secretary’s personal email account would not be “unprecedented.”

“Mrs. Clinton would always be amenable to a subpoena and the separation of powers/executive privilege issues depend upon the substance of what is sought, not who has custody of it,” Luskin told TIME. “Obviously, by using a personal email account, she has complicated her life. In the typical case, lawyers for the administration and Congress would fight it out and she would, more or less, be a bystander. Now, she’s in the ring.”

No matter what happens, the emails will continue to be used as a political cudgel as Clinton weighs a presidential bid. After reports that Gowdy would attend a “Beyond Benghazi” fundraiser this month, Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings said in a statement Monday that the select committee on Benghazi “appears” to have become a “surrogate for the Republican National Committee.” Gowdy quickly canceled the appearance and his office told reporters that he was “unaware” of the organizers’ planned topic.

Republicans continued to keep the pressure on. Michael Mukasey, an Attorney General in the George W. Bush Administration, said Clinton’s latest actions reminded him of the Wile E. Coyote cartoon character. “There are people who think that the laws of physics don’t apply to them,” Mukasey told TIME. “The coyote in the Road Runner cartoons—he keeps running after he goes over the cliff and he doesn’t start to fall until he looks down and sees that he’s over the cliff. It’s the ultimate existential animal.”

Nine sitting Cabinet Secretaries and the Attorney General told TIME through spokespersons last week that they use a government email account for official business. Other Cabinet officials did not comment, but Vice President Joe Biden’s office did. “The Vice President’s emails, like the President’s, are subject to the Presidential Records Act,” says a Biden spokesperson. “In accordance with the Act, the Vice President’s e-mails are preserved and maintained.”

With additional reporting by Zeke Miller/Washington

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Runs Conservative Gatekeeper Gauntlet

Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Jeb Bush made headlines Friday when he used wit to parry the boos of college-age conservatives at a conference outside Washington, D.C. “For those who made an ‘ooo’ sound — is that what it was? — I’m marking you down as neutral and I want to be your second choice,” he told the crowd, in what sounded like a prepared line.

But the moment may not have been the most consequential conservative test he passed last week. Just a day earlier, Bush addressed and largely won over a crowd of strict fiscal conservative donors off camera and thousands of miles away at a gathering of wealthy donors at a Club for Growth confab in Palm Beach, Fla.

David McIntosh, the group’s president, who interviewed Bush on stage, said his members, who tend to be wealthy fighters for strict fiscal conservatism, had been wary before Bush appeared, wondering who they would meet, “the old Governor or a new Bush,” a reference the raw feelings many conservatives still have against Jeb’s father and brother, who both enraged conservatives during their administrations.

But Bush made a forceful case for himself, McIntosh said. “I got to be governor of this state — this purple state, this wacky, wonderful state — for eight years,” Bush told the group, according to an account from the Washington Post. “I ran as a conservative, I said what I was going to do, and I had a chance to do it. And trust me, I did.” By the time it was over, McIntosh was all praise. “Bush impressed people,” he said.

That seal of approval could prove huge dividends as the establishment frontrunner works to avoid a movement backlash to his nascent presidential effort. The man who once said Republicans should “lose the primary to win the general election” is nonetheless aiming to establish his credentials in a way that minimizes the ideological protest against his candidacy from the right. But the fight is far from over. Other conservative activists have been far more skeptical. Grover Norquist, who runs another fiscal conservative group, Americans for Tax Reform, has been critical of Jeb Bush for refusing to sign his pledge, during his gubernatorial campaigns and now, to oppose all increases in taxes.

“My concern is that he has not made a commitment to the American people that he will not raise taxes when all the other candidates have done so,” Norquist said at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. “I think Jeb will take the pledge at the end of the day because both his father and his brother said ‘I don’t know’ and then when they realized what the pledge was and what it actually meant and that it was a pledge to the American people and not to me or Americans for Tax Reform, and that they had no intention of raising taxes, and that everyone else was doing it, they said yes, absolutely.”

Bush has so far refused to budge, and on Saturday his spokesman dismissed Norquist’s organization as just another “lobbying group.” “If Governor Bush decides to move forward, he will not sign any pledges circulated by lobbying groups,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, told ABC News. President George H.W. Bush famously signed Norquist’s pledge and then broke it by supporting a tax increase as part of the 1990 budget, a move that hurt his reelection effort in 1992. President George W. Bush signed and honored the pledge as president, and his White House worked closely with Norquist to rally support for tax cuts in his first term.

One reason for Jeb Bush’s reluctance may be his desire to strike a bargain to reform entitlements if he became president. In 2012, he said in a congressional hearing that he would accept a theoretical deal to raise $1 of tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts, a position that had been rejected by that year’s Republican presidential contenders, in large part because of Norquist’s pledge.

Like Norquist’s group, the Club For Growth also has a reputation for taking a hard line against any candidate who either raises taxes or leaves the door open to tax increases. But so far this cycle, there are no signs that the Club will target Bush. In 2008, the Club for Growth played an aggressive role in opposing Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, attacking him for some tax increases he pushed as governor of Arkansas. In 2012, the group released research papers on the candidates, but did not spend money or offer endorsements in the primary. This year, the group could be more agressive. “There is no decision on an endorsement,” McIntosh said.

But Bush is not seeking an endorsement as much as a lack of opposition. If the Club simply concludes that Bush can be seen in the same category as other Club for Growth favorites, including Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Rand Paul, that would be victory enough for his presidential effort.

Additional reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME 2016 Election

Forget the Past America, Donald Trump Could Run For President

Donald Trump is huge. Don’t anyone forget that.

Also, he is really serious about running for president. Just look at what he told the Washington Post. “I am more serious about this than I’ve ever been before,” he said. That sounds pretty serious, unless you have a memory of what he has said before.

Left out of the Post story was a crucial piece of context. He used those exact same words—more serious than ever before—four years ago, the last time he didn’t run for president. When TIME interviewed him in the Spring of 2011, he said he was delaying the renewal of his television show, The Celebrity Apprentice, to explore the possibility of a political campaign. In the end, he used the publicity raised by not running for President as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with NBC. Now he is saying the same thing. Say what you will about Trump, but the man knows how to negotiate.

The echoes of past feints haunt Trump’s latest tease like a poker tell. Now he talks about hiring staff in South Carolina. In 2011, he was sending staff to Iowa and New Hampshire, offering himself as a speaker at rubber-chicken dinners. If he runs in 2016 in a crowded Republican field, he says this time he will have a clear message: “People around the world are laughing at us,” he told the Post. “Look at China, they’re killing us, taking our jobs. We have weakness in the Middle East and with ISIS. We have incompetent people running the country and I’m tired of it.”

That sounds familiar too. Here’s what he told TIME about four years ago: “Nobody can do the job that I can do. . . I can make this country great again. This country is not great. This country is a laughingstock for the rest of the world.” And here’s what he said in 1987, the first time he did not run for President, in a full-page newspaper ad attacking the administration of Ronald Reagan, the very man lionized by attendees at the Conservative Political Actions Conference where Trump will speak later this week: “The world is laughing at America’s politicians.”

So it goes. There was one other time Trump did not run for President, back in the runup to 2000, when he teased the Reform Party into talking about making him their nominee. His platform back then was the sort of stuff that would probably disqualify any Republican not named Trump from even being talked about as GOP nominee. It included federal single-payer health care—yes, the sort of socialism that even Barack Obama did not embrace—and a one time net worth tax of 14.25% on all Americans worth more than $10 million. (Primary residences, like those in upscale Trump properties, were exempted, of course, effectively turning Trump’s empire into an enormous tax shelter.) For the record, Trump says he has changed his mind on both ideas. He has also recently abandoned his pro-choice views on abortion.

But Trump knows something about the modern media that allows him to skate by all this: We scribblers have lousy memories, and a huge hunger for a good story. And boy, oh boy, is Trump a good story. For instance, just two days ago, he tweeted: “The Oscars were a great night for Mexico & why not—they are ripping off the US more than almost any other nation.” Hilarious! I am sure that will play well in Nevada, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico, where Republicans are set on improving their dismal 2012 margins with Hispanics. He is also lobbying to be the next Oscar host, because why not. Trump is huge.

To understand the man, and his brilliant business, you have to understand his history. And you can’t write about his presidential temptations without mentioning the past. Nothing has changed in 30 years. He really is a marvelous salesman. As I wrote in 2011:

Fretting over the niggling details of reality didn’t get him where he is today — worth $2.7 billion, according to Forbes, with a hit reality show, a men’s clothing line at Macy’s, a string of best-selling business books, swanky country clubs, luxury hotels, Trump tea, Trump chocolate, Trump bottled water, mail-order Trump steaks, the Miss Universe pageant and foreign financiers who solicit the use of his name for new condos in Dubai or on the Black Sea or wherever money is blowing up the skyline with brazen luxury.

Unlike most developers who scraped Manhattan dirt, Trump didn’t make his fortune simply by building things with glass and steel. He sold story lines of living large: Trump, with the best, the tallest, the most, the biggest and the brightest. A decade before reality television, he offered himself as performance art, what Advertising Age calls the “human logo.” “The show is ‘Trump,'” he told Playboy in a 1990 interview. “And it is sold-out performances everywhere.” Without the “Trump,” after all, those steaks are just meat in the mail, and he is just another rich guy who thinks he can buy his way into the White House.

That’s who Trump is. And thanks to a political press that loves to a Trump tale and lacks the column inches for context, that is who he will continue to be. The NBC suits must be feeling faint. He’s as serious as he has ever been about leaving The Celebrity Apprentice. America is a laughingstock. He is huge. He might even go through with becoming a candidate this time. The show is still sold out everywhere.

TIME 2016 Election

Chris Christie Looks to Get His Groove Back With Union Talks

Conservative Activists And Leaders Attend The Iowa Freedom Summit
Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, speaks during the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24, 2015.

A long overdue reset for the governor of New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants to get his mojo back.

The can-do, tough-as-nails, straight-talking governor has spent the last several months tossed around in the shifting seas of presidential politics. Jeb Bush raided his prospective campaign piggy bank. Scott Walker claimed his old crown—the conservative fighter willing to put taxpayers ahead of government workers. And an imprecise vaccine comment in London left Christie fleeing reporters has he sped to his plane back home.

Just last week, during a speech in Washington, a deflated Christie seemed to distance himself from his own state’s economic record, blaming the state legislature for the status quo. “I don’t know exactly whose economic plan has been implemented or not,” he said of the state he runs. It was a far cry from the victorious Christie, who declared upon winning reelection in 2013, “I did not seek a second term to do small things. I sought a second term to finish the job. Now watch me do it.”

“Now” will finally arrive on Tuesday, his advisers promise, when he reveals a new plan to address New Jersey’s struggling finances, a new schedule for another statewide tour and a well-kept secret: For months, he has been breaking bread with his one-time union foes, the New Jersey Education Association, discussing further reforms to the state’s underwater state pension system Christie began to reform with controversial legislation during his first term.

“I did not come here just to identify the problem, shrug my shoulders and return to business as usual,” he plans to say later today, returning to his old rhetorical style. “And that is why I am here today to ask you to do what may be politically difficult, but what is morally and physically the right thing to do. This is what it is about. Coming together. Thinking differently. Serving the people. Addressing the long term. This is how we get things done.”

The shift in tone is long overdue for a governor who has never played defense as well as offense. Just a year ago, he was a formidable force in the Republican Party, with a mainline connection to the establishment looking for someone to take on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. But an uneven message, a distracting criminal investigation over his staff’s involvement in a politically motivated road closure and deteriorating economic conditions in his state have tarnished his reputation.

“There’s an opportunity here for a comeback, because the press will love that,” says John Weaver, a former presidential strategist for Republicans John McCain and Jon Huntsman. “But they have to act fast or he will go down in history having squandered a great opportunity.”

The state’s fiscal situation, which will be the focus on Tuesday’s address, may prove the problem least fixable by a quick shift in strategy. On Monday, just a day before the planned pivot, a state judge ruled that Christie had failed to live up to his own signature legislative accomplishment by failing to fully fund the state’s share of recalculated public employee pensions. In her ruling, state judge Mary Jocobson took a shot at Christie’s public claims to have achieved a historic reforms during his first term, since he had since decided not to fund the state’s share of his own plan. “The governor now takes the unusual position in this court of claiming that this legislative contractual guarantee, which embodied significant reforms for which he took substantial credit with great national fanfare, violates the New Jersey Constitution,” she wrote.

Christie has promised to appeal the ruling which requires him to spend $1.57 billion more on pensions this year, arguing that other state governors have also failed to fully fund the program in the past. But such explanations won’t make good campaign slogans. In part because of the standoff, credit-ratings agencies have repeatedly cut New Jersey’s standing, a fact that could be easily used against the governor in 2016 campaign ads.

Christie’s pre-campaign messaging will also need some attention, as the early state voting map provides him with few credible paths to the nomination. “Christie’s path has narrowed considerably,” said one veteran GOP operative, who is not yet working for a 2016 presidential contender. “Lesser-known candidates have thicker skin with the media and even Rand Paul exhibits more discipline.”

On the road in Iowa or New Hampshire, Christie’s message has thus far boiled down largely to his personality, a move that worked well through two elections in New Jersey. He tells audiences of his family upbringing in an attempt to turn his legendarily brash persona into an asset. “You’ll always know what I believe and you’ll always know where I stand,” he said in Iowa last month.

But the personality pitch depends on a state record to back it up, and may need to be refined for voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. That’s where a potential truce with the unions could come in handy. Just a few years ago, union leaders were circulating an email joking about Christie’s death, and the governor was regularly lobbing words like “greed and self-interest” in the direction of the union. Now Christie has another talking point to add to his claim that he can bring conservative ideas to a blue state and make divided government work.

The New Jersey teacher’s union was a party to the lawsuit that resulted in Monday’s decision, but in a statement to reporters, Christie aides said the new negotiations represented a new chapter in the relationship. “The issue has come full circle – back in 2010 and 2011 when Governor Christie first took on pension and health benefits reform, the NJEA was opposed to any changes,” reads the guidance from the governor’s office. “But today, just five years later, the Governor has reached out to a political adversary and offered them partnership in working toward a solution and they have accepted.”

Any new chapter is a welcome one for Christie at this point. But this won’t be enough. In the coming months, he will need several more to win the nomination of his party.

TIME White House

Obama Claims Republican Rhetoric Could Help ISIS

Rather than ignore his critics, the President takes them on

The newest front in the American war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) will not take place in the deserts of Syria, Iraq or Libya, but on the covers of the nation’s tabloids and the airwaves of its cable television jabfests. President Obama, with two speeches in as many days, has decided to take the battle to his conservative critics.

Those who identify the black-clad extremists with their religious roots, the commander-in-chief argued repeatedly, are peddling a “lie” that will drive recruitment by the nation’s enemies and ultimately hurt U.S. interests. These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists’ narrative,” he said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State.

But he did not stop there. A day after talking about the “debate in the press and among pundits” over terminology, he accused others in the public sphere Thursday of aiding the terrorist cause by highlighting the connection between Islamic teachings and Islamic State’s tactics, which include rape, beheadings, crucifixions and slavery. “That narrative sometimes extends far beyond terrorist organizations,” he continued. “That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence, and that hurts all of us, including Islam and especially Muslims who are the ones most likely to be killed.”

On the other side are conservative commenters and Republican Presidential contenders, who have argued Obama has weakened the international effort to defeat the radicals by whitewashing their religious roots in public statements. “I think it’s a mistake to think that ISIS is not what it is,” said Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush, after a foreign policy address on Wednesday. “It’s violent, extreme Islamic terrorism, and the more we try to ignore that reality, the less likely it is that we’re going to develop the appropriate strategy to garner the support in the Muslim world to do what I said, which is tighten the noose and then take them out.”

Neither side shows much interest in backing down, making this a seminal moment in the Obama Administration’s long battle against the conservative press and his Republican critics. With the exception of his political campaigns and the debate over health care reform, White House aides have mostly preferred to be dismissive, not confrontational, when faced with the rhetoric of the right. But in this case, the White House has concluded that the rhetoric could have a real impact on the strength of the nation’s military foe.

Conservatives are unbowed by this claim, just a week before a major gathering in Washington of conservative leaders, where the red-meat rhetoric is certain to fly freely. A day after Obama’s first speech, the cover of the conservative New York Post photoshopped a blindfold on the President’s portrait with the headline, “Islamic terror? I just don’t see it.” Just two days earlier, Bill O’Reilly, the popular Fox News anchor, upped the temperature by declaring on his show “The Holy War is here, and unfortunately it seems the president will be the last to acknowledge it” — the exact frame that Obama argues validates the Islamic State cause.

Many of the Republicans presidential contenders have also embraced this critique of Obama’s approach to the Islamic State, even as they have offered little detail on how they would prosecute the military campaign differently. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called Obama “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists,” on Fox News Wednesday night.

“Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said earlier this month on “Fox and Friends.” “The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another likely candidate for President, criticized Obama earlier this month for his choice of words. “He certainly doesn’t like to say radical Islamic,” Jindal said in another Fox News appearance. “There’s a politically correct crowd that jumps on you when you say that.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tweeted a link to a poll showing concern about Obama’s handling of the Islamic State. “We should call it what it is: radical Islamic terrorism,” Walker wrote.

Obama’s efforts to separate the ideology of extremists from the underlying teachings of Islam are a long-held strategy of the U.S. Government. In the immediate wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then-President George W. Bush, who used the term “Islamic extremist,” spoke repeatedly about the difference between Islam and the efforts of Al Qaeda. “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith, and it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that,” Bush said, as the rubble in lower Manhattan still smoldered. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”

Some conservative and evangelical activists, however, have since rejected that formulation. In a recent email to supporters, David Lane, a Christian political organizer at the American Renewal Project, who has led trips overseas with many Republican leaders, including Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Huckabee and members of the Republican National Committee, wrote that George W. Bush was mistaken when he claimed in 2004 that Christians and Muslims worshiped the same deity. “The denial of the existence of evil, that God actually has enemies, is part of the fallout of a Biblically illiterate nation,” Lane wrote. “Our previous president was conned.”

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