Christie says it was 'big mistake' to replace him on Trump transition
Governor Christie says he had serious concerns about President Trump's transition after the hiring of Gen. Mike Flynn. Christie spoke at a press conference in Trenton on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that his removal as chairman of Donald Trump's presidential transition has proven to be a "big mistake" and that the country has paid for it.
Christie also said he thinks his opposition during the transition to naming retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn the national security adviser was a "significant reason" for his ouster last year, three days after Trump won the presidency in an upset over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Flynn pleaded guilty last week to lying to federal investigators about his discussions with the Russian ambassador.
During the same news conference where he was asked about Flynn, Christie extended a dispute with his Democratic successor, Phil Murphy, about the authenticity of a document provided by his transition team concerning non-disclosure agreements. Murphy has used the legal agreements to keep his transition volunteers from talking about their work with the media.
Christie's comments came during a wide-ranging news conference in Trenton that lasted more than an hour. The focus was to spotlight a new report from his administration recommending ways to put the heavily underfunded public employee pension system on better financial footing, but the governor spent a good part of the news conference fielding questions ranging from his future employment — he said he does not plan to have a job secured by Jan. 17, the day after he leaves office — to the redevelopment of the capital city.
When asked about Flynn and his own role on the Trump transition, Christie offered an assessment in some of his strongest language yet in public comments.
"I think what folks who were involved in that transition have now painfully learned at the expense of the country is that experience matters," Christie said. "The president's campaign was built on being an outsider who was going to come into Washington and change things. That's great. That's fine. I'm OK with that. But you cannot run a transition as an outsider. You have to be able to understand what needs to be done."
The investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller has been a constant distraction in Washington, D.C., for months and has hovered over a first-year president with no previous experience in politics. Besides the Flynn guilty plea, in which he has agreed to cooperate with Mueller's office, the investigation has yielded two indictments of former campaign officials and another guilty plea, by a former foreign policy adviser.
Christie was an early supporter of Trump and spent about six months leading the transition, along with his former chief of staff Rich Bagger. Christie was replaced by Pence, the former Indiana governor who months earlier had edged him out to become Trump's running mate.
Pence's team trashed 30 binders of transition materials, according to the New Yorker, and his months of work was discarded for a fresh approach to assembling a new administration. Christie did not fault Pence on Wednesday, saying Pence was the transition chairman in name only and "had a lot of other things he was doing," so "he wasn't running the transition day to day."
Christie did not name the person he thought was actually running the transition, but multiple reports have said Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, had a heavy hand in the process.
"I think it's fair to say, given the very few people that have been confirmed into important positions across the government and some of the folks who have been there but didn't belong there in the first place, like General Flynn," Christie said, "the idea that you can take six months of work that Rich Bagger and I and a group of over 100 people did, that we assembled, and throw all that out turned out to be a big mistake."
Christie has previously declined to confirm a detail of the New Yorker article describing a meeting in which Flynn walked in and Ivanka Trump — Trump's daughter and Kushner's wife — praised Flynn's loyalty and asked him what job in the administration he wanted.
Christie said Wednesday that he was strongly opposed to Flynn's hiring because of unspecified but "serious misgivings" about him.
"That probably had something to do with my early departure from the transition — my vehemence regarding my opposition to General Flynn being in the position of national security importance," Christie said, adding that his misgivings "have been confirmed by the fact that he's pled guilty to a felony in federal court."
Flynn was hired within a week of Christie's firing. By February, one month into the new administration, Flynn had been fired, ostensibly for lying to Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Christie has been untouched by the Russia scandal and said Wednesday that he has not been interviewed by Mueller's office.
in other comments Wednesday, Christie contradicted assertions made last week by Murphy that members of Christie's transition team in 2009 and 2010 had been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Murphy had cited Christie's purported use of the agreements in defending the decision to ask his own transition volunteers sign legally binding documents that prohibit them from discussing their work with the press.
Christie said he had consulted with several officials from his transition team and no one remembered using the agreements.
"My transition didn’t use NDAs," Christie said Wednesday. “I was only putting people on the transition committee that I knew and that I trusted, so I didn’t feel the need for a non-disclosure agreement."
Murphy's transition, which did not respond Wednesday for comment, provided a document last week that it said was a non-disclosure agreement from the Christie transition. But the document did not have a date or mention Christie by name.
Christie questioned Murphy’s sensitivity on the issue and called the document “fishy.”
“I think it’s unfortunate that the governor-elect would put forward a document like that that doesn’t identify the Christie transition in any way and try to say that’s proof that we used them,” Christie said. “He should just worry about his own transition, and that’s what we’re trying to help him with.”
Murphy has assembled a group of roughly 500 volunteers to serve on 14 working groups that will produce recommendations for the incoming administration on topics ranging from the economy to transportation and the environment. Each group is expected to issue a final report, which will be released to the public.
Murphy said the purpose of the agreements is to allow an open and "fulsome" discussion during transition meetings "to get the best product." He also said he had “absolute proof” that Christie’s transition team had also deployed non-disclosure agreements, prompting his team to share the document whose authenticity Christie called into question Wednesday.
“Probably the governor-elect should go back to whoever gave it to them and ask them where they got it and if they actually made it up themselves,” Christie said.
Christie clarified that it’s “perfectly within his purview” for Murphy to ask his transition volunteers to sign the agreements, but suggested that the governor-elect keep him out of the conversation.
“Why is he sensitive about it and why should he even care what I ever did?” Christie asked. “This is his transition, not mine.”