Christie visits Rutgers, discusses Bridgegate and working for the Trump campaign
Former Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) spoke at an event hosted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Trayes Hall at the Douglass Student Center last night, sharing insight into his departure from the President Donald J. Trump transition team, his time as governor and stories from the national campaign trail.
Christie’s relationship with the transition team, or the group that organizes an incoming president’s administration, was artificially good he said.
“When I was named chairman of the transition, on the day I accepted, I had a meeting at Trump Tower. Jared Kushner came into that meeting uninvited," he said.
Christie said he had never met Kushner, Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, before this meeting in May 2016. Before that, he had only ever seen Kushner's father three times, who Christie — as an attorney — had prosecuted for 18 counts of federal crimes.
The day after the initial meeting, Trump had to tell the younger Kushner that Christie was the head of the transition and that was the end of it. Then, later in the day, a story in The New York Times said Christie was removed and Kushner was going to be put in charge of the transition, which caused the Trump campaign to release an official statement affirming Christie as the head of transition, he said.
“That afternoon I received a call from Jared Kushner, who asked if I would come to see him at the offices of Trump Tower,” Christie said. “So I went to see him, and he said, ‘Listen, we need to put this all behind us. The most important thing is to work together to make Donald president.’”
He said even though there was some indication that Kushner was watching him carefully, he was allowed to do his job, including helping in Trump’s debate preparation. He was fired from the transition two days after the 2016 election.
Reflecting on his time as New Jersey’s governor, Christie said the scariest thing was that there were approximately 60 people who worked with his seal behind them — and he never knew what they were doing.
“Really, Bridgegate is the best example of it,” Christie said. “Because anybody who knows me has called me many different names. Stupid is not one of them.”
Bridgegate was a scandal in which aides working under Christie colluded to cause a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. He said does not understand how the people involved thought it was a good idea.
Christie said when the scandal broke out, he knew he had to do a press conference the next day.
“In the end, you have to stand up and answer questions about it,” he said.
When he first became governor, he went back and spoke to all the previous governors and asked what would they do if they had another chance to do something. Several governors told him merging the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) and other medical schools across the state was something they all tried to do.
Christie was able to accomplish this, which he said was one of the greatest achievements of his governorship.
Moving the discussion back to present politics, Christie said when he heard Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) had announced his candidacy for president, he called him to speak about it. The two have been friends for 15 years.
He said he remembers when he ran for president himself, he could not believe his name was on signs that said, “Christie for President.” He said he became emotional thinking about how he started as kid from Livingston, New Jersey to running for president of the United States.
If he were president, Christie would take the immigration approach differently. He said he would approach it in a less adversarial way, believing that we are a country of immigrants.
He said as governor, Christie started the conversation on pensions and taxes in this state. He still feels that same sense of responsibility.
“(I) had the greatest job this state can give to any of its citizens, and I had it for eight years. And I feel really fortunate,” Christie said.
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