Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Reports that President Obama's Justice Department has begun an "internal ethics investigation" into acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra's remarks about the root causes of corruption in New Jersey raised suspicions in certain political circles last week.

The Associated Press reported that the department's obscure Office of Professional Responsibility was investigating comments made by Marra about the depth of corruption in the state that some officials think may have crossed the line into politics. But other outside observers think that it may be the department's actions that were motivated by politics.

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Marra is continuing the sweeping federal corruption investigation that late last month led to the arrests of 44 people, 29 of whom were elected or public officials. The arrests were part of a long-term anti-corruption crusade begun by U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who resigned his post in December to run against embattled Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

Corruption among officials in the state has become a huge political issue that now threatens Corzine's bid for re-election to a second term in November. Polls show Christie, who convicted 130 public officials during his seven-year tenure, has been leading him by double digits for months.

The problem for Corzine is how to defuse the corruption issue. Enter the Justice Department, which the AP said has launched an investigation into U.S. prosecutor Marra "over public comments that may have helped his ex-boss' (Christie) campaign for governor."

The AP's story is based on DOJ officials "who spoke on condition of anonymity," and the department itself refuses to comment on it.

The center of the investigation revolves around remarks Marra made at a news conference last month to announce the arrests.

When asked about corruption in the state, Marra said this: "There are easily reforms that could be made within this state that would make our job easier, or even take some of the load off our job. There are too many people that profit off the system the way it is, and so they have no incentive to change it. The few people that want to change it seem to get shouted down. So how long that cycle's going to continue, I just don't know."

It's a statement that few if anyone would disagree with and certainly falls within the definition of fair public comment on why the state of New Jersey has been victimized by decades of largely Democratic corruption -- and, sadly, has been defined by it.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.