Christie: No strain in Trump relationship
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TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christiehas repeatedly spoken of his 14-year friendship with Donald Trump since endorsing him in the Republican presidential primary in February. Now that Trump has surprised the country with his presidential victory and is in a position to reward Christie for his early support, however, their relationship appears strained.
A friend of Christie’s, former Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., resigned from the transition team Tuesday. Christie was named Trump’s transition chairman in May, charged with helping identify about 4,000 workers and appointees to serve in the new administration. But Friday, Trump replaced Christie with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and announced that two close Christie allies, Rich Bagger and Bill Palatucci, would leave their positions and serve as advisers to the transition.
The moves have been interpreted as signs of trouble for the transition and for the relationship between Christie and Trump. But Christie reaffirmed his loyalty to the president-elect in a radio interview Tuesday.
“He knows after 14 years that no matter what he decides, we’re going to be friends, and as I was there to help him during the campaign, I’ll be there to help him as president, whether that means I’ll decide to take a position, if offered, in the administration,” Christie said in a phone interview with Harry Hurley, a friend who hosts a morning talk show on radio station WPG-FM (104.1 FM). Christie added that he has “spoken to the president-elect often in the last six days and what I’ve said to him is what I’ll say to you, which is: If there is a way that I can be helpful, that’s meaningful, then Mary Pat and I will consider it.”
Christie is now one of several transition vice chairmen, once again losing influence to Pence after being in contention with him to be Trump’s running mate. In 2012, Christie campaigned for Pence during his run for governor of Indiana. And as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie helped raise roughly $1.2 million that the organization donated to Pence’s successful campaign, according to the National Institute of State Politics.
Christie’s diminished role with Trump’s transition is due at least in part, according to multiple news outlets, to Jared Kushner, the president-elect’s son-in-law, whose father was convicted in a case prosecuted by Christie when he was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. Charles Kushner, a prominent Democratic donor, was sentenced to two years after pleading guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations. But unnamed transition aides told Bloomberg that the Kushner-led purge was because the transition hadn’t progressed or gotten as far as Trump wanted, not the conviction.
Christie, who is in Florida for the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference, dismissed the multiple reports over the past several days as “drama from unnamed sources.”
“None of that stuff really matters,” he said.
Trump has given no signal in public that his relationship with Christie is under strain. Their relationship was so strong at one point during the campaign that they had agreed to an endorsement deal, according to a forthcoming book from a team of CNN reporters. Trump did not expect to last the primary campaign and agreed that he would endorse Christie, an anonymous Christie adviser told the reporters. But Christie finished sixth in the New Hampshire primary, dropped out of the race and quickly endorsed Trump.
Trump thanked Christie for his work and support after winning the election and again Friday, when he announced Pence would take over as transition chairman.
Christie’s ouster as transition chairman has dominated headlines and fueled speculation about his future as Trump shapes his administration. But it is not unprecedented. In 1972, Democrat Jimmy Carter’s transition head, Jack Watson, took on a different role after the election. And Mickey Kantor was replaced by Democrat Bill Clinton after he won the 1992 election.
Transitions by nature have “built-in conflict” because people close to the candidate tend not to show great interest in the pre-planning work during the campaign. But once it’s over, “politics matters more than efficiency” and “a lot of the work that was done will likely be wasted” as the post-election transition gets greater attention, said Heath Brown, an assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition.
“Even the most soundly run transitions, when you talk to the people involved, (they) describe it as chaos because they are doing so much,” Brown said. “This is not that unusual, to have conflicts.”
With the naming of Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and of Reince Priebusas chief of staff, many top positions remain unfilled. One large question is what post, if any, Christie may be offered. Christie, whose term ends in January 2018, declined to say Tuesday whether he had spoken to Trump about a job, but said his two youngest children are in the eighth and 10th grades, which are “very sensitive times for kids.”
“We have a lot of big decisions to make about where our family will be headquartered and all the rest,” Christie said. “So it’s not just a decision about my career and my future. It’s about my family’s future and their comfort and their potential. And it’s also about the comfort, potential and future of the people of the state of New Jersey who gave me eight years. So I’ll try to balance all those things if I have a decision to make. But all those initial decisions are made by the president-elect.”
Follow Dustin Racioppi on Twitter: @dracioppi
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