New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joined me today:
HH: On this snowy Thursday back east, I’m pleased to be joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I don’t think this storm is up in the Garden State, yet, is it, Governor?
CC: It is not, and I am in New Hampshire. And so it is not here, either. It’s a sunny, blue sky day here in New Hampshire. Cold, but sunny and blue skies.
HH: So Governor, I’ve got a lot to ask you, but I’ve got to start, I’ve been in a lot of green rooms between Meet the Press and This Week and Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper. And one consultant who will go unnamed, and you can’t track him down, says to me, I don’t know what Christie’s doing in Iowa. His whole game should depend upon New Hampshire. So why have you been campaigning in Iowa?
CC: Well, because you know, I think campaigning in Iowa is an important thing to do. I am spending more time in New Hampshire than I spend in Iowa, but the fact is that we think we can make some ground in Iowa. And so the fact is that we’re spending plenty of time here in New Hampshire by a two to one margin more time than we’re spending in Iowa. And so, you know, the fact is that that unnamed consultant should remain unworried.
HH: (laughing) Okay, so tell me, talk to me about some polling. You know, Donald Trump always likes to run down the polls. And if I run down the New Hampshire polls, it’s Trump and everybody in second place.
HH: So what do you make of these?
CC: Well, I don’t make much of them, Hugh, because here’s the thing. There were two polls out in the last couple of days that showed a 14 point difference between one candidate. And in one of the polls, it said 69% of the people said they had not made up their minds. So I could say is that comports with what we’re finding on the ground here in New Hampshire. The last two weekends, Hugh, our organization has knocked on 23,000 doors here in New Hampshire. And the interesting thing we found was that 60% of the people that we met at these doors told us they’d not yet made up their mind.
CC: So this is a huge, that’s a huge number. And so I don’t think anyone has any idea. I don’t think the polls mean a lick at the moment. And the other thing I’ve heard from actual voters here, Hugh, is that their phones are ringing between five and ten times a night, between robo-calls and polling calls. And they’re just refusing to answer.
CC: They just don’t want to answer. They’ve had enough. They’re being bothered, and they want to be left alone.
HH: Well, that happens in California with initiatives, so I’m not surprised. Let me ask you about the three actual developments of the last week that we know for sure happened, and then a fourth comes. Donald Trump was endorsed by Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz was blasted by Terry Branstad and by Bob Dole, and it is alleged by Senator Burr today, though not yet confirmed. What do make of those events?
CC: Listen, as far as the Sarah Palin endorsement of Donald Trump, that’s up to the two of them. And if they think that that’s helpful to the Trump campaign, and Governor Palin believes that Donald Trump’s the best person for president, God bless her, let her make whatever endorsement she wants to make. As to Terry Branstad and Ted Cruz, listen, you know, people underestimate Terry Branstad, because he is a very mild-mannered on the outside, soft-spoken guy. But let’s not forget he is the longest-serving governor in American history. This is a political player who fights for Iowa. And the fact is that Ted Cruz has sponsored, you know, the bills that he sponsored that are anti-RFS and anti-ethanol, and anti-wind energy in the United States Senate. And Governor Branstad is going to fight for his state. And so I think it’s significant. I think it’s significant to have someone who has, Terry Branstad has never lost an election in Iowa of any kind, primary or general. So I think he’s an important player in that state, and that certainly can’t help Senator Cruz. And let’s see, what was the third thing you asked me? Oh, it was.
HH: Bob Dole.
CC: Bob Dole. Listen, Senator Dole is an American hero, and you know, he has the right to express himself any way he likes. And if that’s the way he feels about Ted Cruz, as a war hero, as a former nominee of our party, he has the right to express himself any way he wants. I have great respect for Senator Dole
HH: Does it help the Republican Party? I’m uncommitted. I am the Howard Cosell of this fight. I’m just calling it like I see it. So whoever is up, and whoever is down. But I do worry that our nominee, whoever it turns out to be, is going to be damaged by all the bricks going through all the windows. What do you think?
CC: Well, listen, I think that some folks have made some very bad decisions in the last few weeks. I mean, Marco Rubio can’t find anybody he won’t attack. I mean, he’s attacked me with millions of dollars of ads in New Hampshire. He’s attacked Jeb Bush. He’s attacked Ted Cruz. He’s attacked Donald Trump. I mean, you know, there’s not a person who’s relevant in this race that Marco Rubio hasn’t attacked. And I think it has caused the beginning of a circular firing squad. And Marco’s shooting at everybody. And you know, he’s a hypocrite, because he says I don’t want to say anything negative about any candidate, and then he goes about to do a broadside on whoever he’s hitting that day. You’ve noticed, I hope, Hugh, that that’s not what we’re doing. I want to keep my eye on the ball and give us the best nominee to defeat Hillary Clinton. And I am not going to engage in the kind of stuff that Senator Rubio’s engaging in, which is kind of the typical Washington insider type of game. He listens to those Washington Beltway consultants who tell him just attack everybody. And you know, today was Jeb Bush’s day. Yesterday was my day. So I’m very disappointed in Senator Rubio’s conduct. And not only do I think it’s hurting the party, but he’s hurting himself.
HH: All right, now I’ve got to call you on this a little bit, because I didn’t hear it. I only read this. Two days ago, John Kasich came on the show and said this.
JK: Well, you know, a lot of candidates are like the prince of darkness. You know, I consider myself the prince of light and hope.
HH: Now you went on Neil Cavuto’s show yesterday and you said that sounds a heck of a lot more Satan than the prince of light and hope. Now calling your opponent Satan, I don’t know if it was in jest or not, but that’s…
CC: Well, of course it was in jest. But when John says that everybody else is like the prince of darkness and he’s the prince of light and hope, now listen. I know John Kasich. I’ve known him for a long time, and I like him very much. We’re not, nobody else in this race is the prince of darkness. John has done his share, through his superPAC, of attacking me and attacking Jeb Bush. Yet, you know, he portrays himself as the prince of light and hope? As I said yesterday on Neil Cavuto, I’ve heard John Kasich called by his colleagues many things. The Prince of light and hope has never been one of them.
HH: He’s my governor. He’s my home state governor, and he’s irascible John and sweet and lightness John.
HH: There are two of them. But I wish you watched Game of Thrones, because I’d ask if you’re going full Gregor Clegane on him or Eddard Stark. I don’t know, but let’s get onto the serious stuff.
HH: Now I was at a conference of all of the Salem talk show hosts. And we spent two days together, because this election matters a lot. And I have no opinions, because I’m a debate panelist twice more. But a lot of people have a lot of opinions. And it came down to last night how you decide, and one of the comments I offered is who do you want to be in the Oval Office when Ted Koppel’s book, Lights Out, comes true, when the grid goes down for three weeks. Based upon that, I mean, the electrical grid could go down for three weeks or longer, according to Koppel’s research, and it’s a real deal. How do you evaluate yourself vis-à-vis the other candidates in that situation, Chris Christie?
CC: Well, I’ll tell you this. I don’t think there’s been anybody more tested by crisis, Hugh, than I’ve been. I mean, I stood in New Jersey during the second largest natural disaster in American history. The only worse disaster was Katrina. And I had to sit and rebuild the state, 75% of which had no power for three weeks. We had no water treatment or wastewater treatment plants that were operational. We lost 355,000 homes, and every school in New Jersey was closed. And we had to come back from that. I think when you’ve been tested by crisis in that way, there’s nothing else that prepares you for crisis. What I say to the people of the country is I put the people in my state first and foremost above everything else. We’ve rebuilt the state of New Jersey back after three years after Hurricane Sandy. And I think that makes me by far and away of the people in this field the best prepared to deal with that kind of problem.
HH: What did you learn about, Koppel’s book really did alarm me. Frank Gaffney has been talking for years about vulnerability to the grid of terrorist attacks, but Koppel talks about vulnerability of the grid as well to everyone from pranksters to gangsters who want to make money from that which happens in the aftermath of a power shutdown. What did you learn about the grid in the aftermath of Sandy?
CC: Well, what we learned was that it’s incredibly vulnerable, and incredibly fragile, and that you really, a bad storm, a historic storm like Sandy put the most densely populated state in the nation without power for 75% of the state for three weeks by the time the repairs were made. And what it tells you is that we have a lot of work to do. And one of the things I’ve said in my corporate tax reform plan about bringing, repatriating that $2 trillion dollars into the United States, is to tax it at 8 ¾%, and to use that money exclusively, Hugh, for rebuilding our infrastructure. And by that, I mean roads, bridges and the grid.
HH: Now last question on this subject, later today, I’m going to spend an hour with Robert Gates, who’s an extraordinary public servant. I’m sure you have great admiration for him.
CC: I do.
HH: Just about everybody in D.C. does. He quotes in his new book, he has a new book out called A Passion For Leadership, he quotes Jacques Barzun as saying to govern well requires two distinct kinds of ability – political skill and the administrative mind. Both are very rare, either in combination or separately. Using both categories of talent, political skills and the administrative mind, how do you rank yourself vis-à-vis the other Republicans?
CC: Well, first off, on the administrative mind, I don’t think there’s anybody that’s in a more difficult state to govern than I have, 750,000 more Democrats than Republicans, a completely Democratic legislature, and the problems that happen to a state when you’re dominated by public sector union politics. And yet we’ve brought great reforms there. We’ve balanced a budget. We’ve refused to raise any taxes. We’ve reformed teacher tenure, reformed the pension and benefit system, opened up charter schools. This is a conservative agenda that folks dream about in places, and we’ve been able to get it done in New Jersey with that. So on the administrative side, I think we’ve done it in a place that’s much more difficult than anybody else. And as far as political skills, I’ll let others judge my political skills, but I think that I’ve done fairly well so far.
HH: Now Gates talks at great length, and it’s one of those books like McChrystal’s Team Of Teams, it will influence. But you have no time for books. I know that. But when you get around to it, he, when he took over the CIA in 1991, he implemented 24 Task Force, which he said he took everyone out of their cubicles, crossed every line of operational authority in order to shake the agency from top to bottom in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Have you used task force and out of the box approaches to things to get stuff done?
CC: I did that when I was U.S. Attorney for certain, Hugh. I came into an office that was fairly stodgy and old-fashioned in its approach. And what I did was I broke apart the entire organization structure. I moved people not only in terms of their responsibilities to work in different matters in the office, but I moved their physical space. They had been in their offices, many of them, for a decade or more. I moved who they sat near, who they sat with. And we changed the entire office around, and what happened was in those seven years, we were more productive, brought more prosecutions to a successful conclusion than at any time in recent history in New Jersey. You can do this. I’ve done it before. I did it as U.S. Attorney, and I can certainly do it as president of the United States.
HH: Do you have any idea of the skill sets you’re looking for, for a Secretary of State or a Secretary of Defense in a Christie administration?
CC: Yes, certainly for a Secretary of State, what I’m looking for is someone who not only is extraordinarily smart and knows the world, but we’ll pick someone who will bring a very, very tough demeanor to negotiations, someone who mirrors my demeanor in negotiations.
HH: Okay, then let me go back to the last set of questions having to do with advancing the ball against Hillary Clinton. When Jake Tapper asked her on Sunday has the FBI interviewed you, she answered with one word, no. Nothing else, no elaboration, Jake was out of time. What does that answer tell you, if anything?
CC: I can tell you as a former prosecutor that the person who is at the center of the investigation is always interviewed last.
HH: What, so does that tell you she’s at the center, or the target?
CC: Well, I don’t know. Target is a very specific word filled with legal meaning. What I would say is that certainly, she is someone who they have to be interested in. She’s not just a witness, because if she was just a witness, they would have already spoken to her. You always wait until last to interview the person who’s at the center of things.
HH: Now help me out, because you are a prosecutor. I don’t know that Jake knows the language. My next question of her, and I doubt I’ll ever be allowed to ask her a question, would have been have you received a target letter? And I don’t even know what that means, but I know it’s a good question. What does that mean? And when does she receive it? Go ahead.
CC: Well, that would be a very, very significant moment. What a target letter is they tell you specifically that the grand jury sees you as a target for a potential indictment. And that’s a very significant moment. If anybody ever got a target letter, that means you’re inches away from indictment. So you know, that’s a question of great significance, and I am sure that the prosecutors involved would not issue that kind of letter unless they were just about 100% convinced that they had the evidence to bring charges.
HH: Now help me out again within the DOJ. To send a target letter, would the FBI or the United States Attorney involved have to get Loretta Lynch’s approval?
CC: Listen, I would think on a case of this significance, whoever the United States Attorney is who’s handling this, would run it up the chain at DOJ for review. I don’t think that they would do it with a person of this level of significance, that you would not at least run that by the deputy Attorney General. U.S. Attorneys report directly to the Deputy Attorney General. That is your direct supervisor. And so if, in fact, they were thinking about doing something like that, I cannot imagine a U.S. Attorney that would not first before issuing it lay out the basis for it, and run that by his or her immediate boss, which would be the Deputy Attorney General.
HH: Now again, if you’re trying to put together a case about violating the security laws, do you wait and lay back and see what the former Secretary of State says in the course of this campaign? Is that all relevant to whether or not to charge her?
CC: Probably not. I think the conduct probably occurred quite some time ago that would the subject of any charges, based upon what I’ve read and understand. And so I don’t think that that would be nearly as significant as the conduct that occurred back at the time when we believe, which was during her time as Secretary of State, that in fact classified information may have been mishandled.
HH: Do you think either the House or the Senate Intelligence Committee ought to summon her for testimony not about Benghazi, but about the server and the allegations in the Inspector General’s letter received by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee?
CC: I certainly think it’s well within their right and their responsibility to do so. Now they may be being asked, I don’t know this, speculation, but they may be being asked not to do that by prosecutors. There were times when I was U.S. Attorney that I would go to the state legislature and say please don’t hold hearings and ask for the following people to be witnesses, because it could potentially interfere with my investigation. Now I don’t know whether that’s happened or not. But if that did happen, I found, at least in my experience, that frequently, the legislative bodies would defer to the prosecutor.
HH: Now can we infer anything about her not, and I am hoping someone asks her if she’s received a target letter. Can we infer anything from her not having received one if she’s asked and answers no?
CC: Not yet. All you can infer from that is that they are not at the stage at this point where they’ve completed the investigation. And so from that perspective, I think that those types of things usually go out very late in the game.
HH: All right, now I’ve brought up before with you Bridgegate, and so we’ve talked about this before. But I think one of the reasons we know that’s over and you’re not vulnerable to that is that you never received any such letter, correct?
CC: Oh, absolutely not. No, I’ve never had anything like that at all. I was interviewed as a witness any number of times by both the internal investigators who we hired to do the investigation, and then also interviewed by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, saying they’ve made their decision long ago, almost a year ago now, on charging. And those investigations have moved on. And so yeah, those didn’t involve me in the least.
HH: So how do you answer, if it becomes Christie-Clinton, Clinton-Christie, and you’re both up there on the stage, and my counterpart in the main event in the fall says you know, Mrs. Clinton, we’re waiting for this, FBI Director Comey resigned, or you’ve got a target letter, or you’re indicted, and she says Chris Christie’s been in the same place as I am, accused and exonerated, how do you respond?
CC: Absolutely untrue, that at that point, under the set of circumstances you just gave me, that would not be the case for her. Certainly, it’s well, well the case for me.
HH: How do you explain that to the public, though, that it’s a, that you’re, they looked and there was nothing there, but with there, they haven’t even looked, or they’re not done looking?
CC: Well, I think that’s the way you explain it to people. You know, listen, you know, I’m so used to see people actually be charged in this case, and a prosecutor making some final determinations. You cannot reach any conclusion.
HH: Now Bill Kristol also cautions we can’t count on Democrats imploding or being indicted, because we did that before with Clinton and it never worked. But what, if that is not in fact pregnant, if that is a dead end, what case do you prosecute first, because you always use that term, in the debates against Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie?
CC: Well, first of all, I agree with Bill Kristol. So you’ve got to be ready to bring the case. I think the first thing I do is look the American people in the eye and say you really want a third Barack Obama term? And if you have any doubt that she’d be nothing more than a third Barack Obama term, then you weren’t watching the debate this past week, because the debate this past week made it, she made it abundantly clear that she was whole-heartedly in support of everything the President has done, and that she would do nothing different, and in fact, just expand upon what the President has already done. So the first thing you have to ask the American people is are you so happy with the two terms of Barack Obama that you’d like a third one? Next, I’d say what has this woman ever run in her life? What has she ever run successfully? We now have all kinds of inquiries into the State Department and what’s happened there regarding the managing of the finances there, and obviously Benghazi, and not this email situation. Other than that, the only thing she’s ever run is a 30 person Senate staff. And you’re going to put her in charge of the most complex government the world has ever known? She’s not ready for this job, and she’ll never be ready for this job based upon who she is and where she’s come from. And then next, you’d have to talk about what in fact she’s done in terms of Secretary of State around the world. She was integral to the Libya plan. And we now see Libya on fire and out of control. She was integral to the Syria plan. We see what’s happening in Syria. She was integral to kicking Mubarak out of Egypt. Now, we have martial law in Egypt, and before that, we had the Muslim Brotherhood. And so this is a woman that everything she touches on the foreign policy realm heads bad. And so that’s the way you go after it.
HH: Last question, Governor. You have shrewdly chosen to be interviewed on a Thursday, which means that Thursday and Friday interviews replay all weekend long in South Carolina and New Hampshire, my stations there. And closing argument time in New Hampshire, absentees are out. What is your closing argument in New Hampshire and South Carolina?
CC: The argument is this, that we need the most tested, ready, mature person to be able to take on Hillary Clinton and make sure she is defeated, and then to be ready to fix all of the mess that Barack Obama has left. I have been able to do that over my career. I went into Trenton and turned it upside down, disrupted the Democratic status quo, the same way the status quo needs to be disrupted in Washington, D.C. And we’re going to take that fight on, but you can’t just burn the building down, Hugh. You’ve got to be able to rebuild it after you burn it down. I’ve had experience doing that in New Jersey. This year, we just got the statistics today, New Jersey’s greatest job growth year in 15 years, in 15 years, the greatest job growth year, we’ve rebuilt that house. We’ve made it better, and we’ve made it more responsible for the people who live there. And so you want someone who can do the job. But when they sit there the first day, they’re not going to spin around in the chair and say gee whiz, isn’t it great, I’m president of the United States. They’re going to sit in that chair and say I’ve sat in a chair like this before. I’m ready. Let’s get moving and let’s get our country back going in the right direction.
HH: Is it a certain thing, Chris Christie, I’ll see you again on the stage in Houston and in Miami?
CC: I’m looking forward to it.
HH: And is there anyone you want to, you’re famous for saying get the hell off the beach. Is there anyone you want to say get the hell off the stage to?
CC: (laughing) A number of people, I’d like to do that. But I’m going to leave that to the voters to tell people to get off the stage. I’m just going to do my job.
HH: Good luck with the storm, Governor Christie, and I know you’ll be back in New Jersey if you have to be back there, but I appreciate you taking the time today to talk to me. Don’t go anywhere, America.
CC: Hugh, thank you very much, always a pleasure to be on your show.
HH: Thank you, Governor.
End of interview.