New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.”

Terror researcher Steve Emerson was quoted at the time as calling Christie’s involvement in the case “a disgrace and an act of pure political corruption,” especially since “I know for certain that Christie and the FBI had access to information about Qatanani’s background, involvement with and support of Hamas.”

Why would a man who was otherwise tasked as a U.S. attorney with defending America against such Islamists intervene on behalf of a Hamas supporter? The answer was obvious. Christie was already looking ahead to his race for governor against Corzine in 2009 and wanted the enthusiastic support of the state’s not-insignificant Muslim population. Christie’s record in the Qatanani case is a troubling chapter in his biography, and his willingness to further solidify his friendship with the American Muslim Union with his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to the court shows that his judgment on the issue of support for terrorism is highly questionable. If Christie’s name is mentioned again in the context of a presidential politics or even as a possible nominee for vice president, he is going to have to answer some tough questions about all this.

(Hat tip to Daniel Greenfield’s Sultan Knish blog)