Attorney General John Formella says protecting the public is his top priority. But the specific protections he’s chosen to highlight have some in Granite State political circles suggesting he might also have political ambitions as well.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging podcast interview with NHJournal, Formella acknowledged his pathway to public service came through his close working relationship with Gov. Chris Sununu. Before Sununu nominated him for the job, Formella served as the governor’s legal counsel, advising him on all significant legal issues and litigation.

Asked if he was interested in following the same path to the governor’s office taken by former GOP Gov. Steve Merrill, Formella said, “I would never rule it out.”

“I love the job I have. It’s all-consuming. It’s incredibly challenging, but it’s really fulfilling and rewarding and I get to work with great people. I’ve got still over two years left in this term, but it’s not something I rule out,” said the 36-year-old attorney general.  “I know it sounds like the typical canned answer, but it is the honest answer.”

Still, it is hard not to notice Formella is raising his profile by taking on policy issues that resonate with the Republican politics of the day: Gun rights, the fentanyl crisis, and ‘woke’ corporate policy, for example.

Just last week, Formella joined 24 other attorneys general in a lawsuit over a Biden administration rule that would let 401(k) managers direct money into ESG (Environmental Social Governance) investments. Formella and his colleagues argue that violates federal law.

“This action is all about protecting the hard-earned retirement savings of Granite Staters and Americans all across the country. Asset managers should not have an automatic green light to just start directing trillions of U.S. retirement dollars into ESG investments without their clients’ directing them to, and that’s exactly what they’ll get if we don’t stop this,” Formella said in a statement. “Federal law has long required fiduciaries to place their client’s financial interests at the forefront, and that is something that should not change.”

ESG is a hot-button issue in conservative circles, as is gun rights — another issue Formella has targeted. H has signed off on national attorneys general letters targeting FedEx and UPS over new reporting requirements that allow the companies to track sales of firearms “with unprecedented specificity.” He also backed a national push against a policy from the nation’s largest credit card companies to begin using a new transaction code to specifically identify purchases at gun stores.

Formella has been part of more than 60 multi-state letters, briefs, and other actions since taking office, far more than his predecessor Gordan MacDonald. And because, unlike most attorneys general who are popularly elected, Formella answers directly to the governor the question is raised regarding his independence. When Formella signed a letter to President Joe Biden asking that fentanyl be designated a weapon of mass destruction, did Sununu have to sign off, too?

“I have always felt free to pursue issues that I, as attorney general, believe are important, issues where I’ve come to that independent determination on my own,” Formella said. At the same time, Formella noted, “I think for obvious reasons the governor and I generally agree on a lot of things — I don’t think we would have worked so well together as governor and legal counsel for four years if that wasn’t the case.”

So, why then has Formella been aggressive on the Second Amendment but largely silent on border security? While Republican attorneys general across the nation have spoken out repeatedly on the Biden administration’s failures at the southern border, Formellas has remained on the sidelines. Most recently he declined to join an attorneys general letter opposed to Biden’s new policy to make it easier for illegal immigrants claiming asylum to cross the border.

Is this potential presidential candidate Chris Sununu telling his attorney general to sidestep a politically-problematic issue? Formella said no, pointing instead to what he said are the shifting views on the two issues.

The Second Amendment issue is far more settled in New Hampshire politics, Formella explained, than the immigration issue. “We’re a rural state. Guns are part of our culture.

“But immigration issues are a bit more nuanced,” Formella said. “You’ve got to look more carefully at the immigration issues when you’re thinking about how are the interests of the people of New Hampshire are directly implicated. We’ve seen a shift recently in how we view immigration issues — at least in how I do.

“Three or four years ago, people looked at immigration through the lens of Trump. They looked at it as there were immigration actions being taken by the feds due to perhaps not liking certain classes of people. That was the accusation,” Formella said.

But Granite Staters can expect a change. “We’ve seen a shift now in the link between problems at the border and the fentanyl crisis, drugs, things that do impact New Hampshire. So I am looking at these issues much more carefully now. I expect we may begin getting involved in immigration issues more, given the connection between immigration and drugs.”

Formella has several successes to celebrate, among them stopping the Biden administration’s attempts to use the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to bar states from using aid in the law to “directly or indirectly” offset revenue reductions from tax cuts.

“So our elected representatives are free to make tax policy as they were elected to do so, it’s a big win.”

During the primary elections last year, Formella’s office opened an investigation into a series of illegal campaign mailers from a company in Massachusetts, targeting the GOP Second Congressional District primary. Asked about the status of the case, Formella said progress is being made.

“I can’t get into the specifics, but I will tell you this: it’s an active investigation. It is very concerning to me when out-of-state actors come into this state and violate our election laws and meddle in our elections. It’s a top priority.”

Formella graduated from Florida State University with a B.A. in English Literature and an M.S. in Applied American Politics and Policy. He received his law degree from George Washington University and worked for the Pierce Atwood law firm at Pease International Tradeport.

So does Formella have a future in New Hampshire politics?

Political strategist Tom Rath, who served as attorney general under Gov. Mel Thomson, said that while previous office holders like Warren Rudman and Kelly Ayotte may have landed in the U.S. Senate, “They did not use the office as a launching pad. The best way for an attorney general to have a political future is to be really good as attorney general.

“My guess is John Formella knows that.”


To listen to the podcast interview, click here.