Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joined me Monday morning to discuss his new memoir “Let Me Finish”:
HH: Governor Christie, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
CC: Happy to be back.
HH: You are a hard guy to book on the radio when you aren’t running for president or promoting a book.
CC: (laughing) Well, you know, it’s, once you get out of office and you wind up, you know, associating yourself with ABC, they make it a little more difficult for you to go all over the place.
HH: I get it. But I want to say at the beginning of this, this is easily the equal of any political memoir I’ve read in the 20 years of doing this radio show, 10 years of television before that. Why didn’t you write at least the first half of it before the campaign?
CC: You know why, Hugh? Because I was ethically prohibited from doing a book under the laws of New Jersey while I was sitting as governor.
HH: That is a crazy law.
CC: It’s, we, I was the only governor in America who could not write a book while I was in office.
HH: Do you know how helpful this book would have been to you?
HH: Because of Nanny and your mom and your backstory?
HH: Okay, so the New Jersey law. Here’s my big takeaway. Donald Trump is actually your friend, and I mean a real friend, not a political friend.
HH: I did not know that until I read this book. He’s a real friend.
CC: He is. He is, and you know, we’ve known each other for 17 years now. And as you know from the book, it was at the behest of his older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who’s a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals judge in New Jersey. I met her when I became U.S. Attorney in 2002 and had that, you know, meeting with her where she ended the meeting by asking for a personal favor, would I go out to dinner with her little brother, was the way she put it. And that’s how I first met Donald Trump.
HH: I’m going to come back to that story, and the scallops part of it. But first, Page 11, “I got in early, and I spoke up loudly,” you wrote. “I worked hard, and I never forgot where I came from. And I’m still ready for more. Let me finish. I’m not finished. I’m not even close.” So I gather, it is fair to say, you have not ruled out running against Mike Pence in 2024?
CC: I haven’t ruled out anything in terms of my political future. I don’t think I’m a guy who would ever run for the United States Senate, because I just don’t think it’s something that I would enjoy doing. But I certainly haven’t ruled anything else out.
HH: You are, have you ruled out running against President Trump in 2020?
CC: Yeah, no, I don’t see anybody doing that.
HH: But 2024 is on the table?
CC: Yeah, listen, why not? I’m 56 years old, so you have to see. One thing, you know me, Hugh. I would not do it if I couldn’t see a pathway to victory. I’m not someone who wants to do it just to go through the exercise. But if I saw a pathway to victory and a way to make a difference, I certainly would consider it.
HH: Now I read books closely to find out the constellation of friends around a figure like you. Your constellation includes Larry Hogan and Charlie Baker.
HH: Do you think Larry Hogan should run against the President in the primaries?
CC: I don’t think he will as things are currently situated, Hugh, because the President, the last poll I saw, has 81% approval rating among Republican voters. And one of the ways that Larry Hogan became only the second Republican ever to be reelected in Maryland is because he’s a smart politician on top of a number of other things. And I don’t think Larry would, you know, take that on given that there’s such a narrow landing strip for success.
HH: So if he calls you up, what’s your advice to him? Do it or not do it?
CC: My advice to him would be don’t do it, because I think you’ll lose. And I could tell him that running for president and losing is never pleasant, and it’s an extraordinary amount of effort, and I wasn’t running against an incumbent president. That makes it even more difficult. But you know, I think Larry’s a smart guy. We talk all the time. And if the point comes where he is seriously considering doing it, I’m sure we’ll have a lot of conversations. And I’d love to be able to give him the best advice I can.
HH: You’ll also have in that 2024 field Charlie Baker and Doug Ducey. There are a lot of very successful Republican governors out there. It would be a governor-heavy stage this time. Do you think that’s better or worse than the 2016 logjam we had?
CC: I think it’s better. I think Americans love to have people on the stage who’ve actually accomplished something. And I think that you know, all the governors that you mentioned are folks that I helped get elected in 2014 as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and who are folks who have really, really admirable records in their individual states.
HH: Now I know you like Mike Pence, but vice presidents usually have a prohibitive advantage. I remember George H.W. Bush against Bob Dole. I remember Al Gore against Bill Bradley. Is it possible to beat Mike Pence?
CC: Well, listen, I think it’s possible to beat anybody, especially when we’re talking about a time that’s so far off. We don’t know what the political climate’s going to be at that time. So you know, I don’t think there’s anybody who should be considered to be a prohibitive favorite back at that point, because we don’t know what the political world is going to look like then, Hugh. And you know how much that can change.
HH: Yeah. Now let me talk to you about your bad habit of bad pictures. The hostage picture, the alone on the beach picture, you’ve got great stories in this book about them both, by the way. They’re funny, and they’re explanatory. But can a memoir ever catch up with a picture? Could you overcome those in 2024?
CC: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think that people look at those things, and by 2024, you know, how relevant they’ll even be is kind of funny. And you know, I think folks when they hear me talk about it, and as you say, I talk about it in a way that doesn’t try to make excuses as much as it tries to just give people an explanation, and that people either buy it or they don’t. But I think people don’t judge how they’re going to vote for a president based upon one photo over a career.
HH: You know, the memoir is often very funny. You went to Mar-A-Lago, for example, for an anniversary with Mary Pat, your wonderful wife. And you knew you were going to get roped in, and you did get roped into debate prep. And Rich Zeoli walks in, and he’s a good political operative. He has this big binder of prep.
HH: And you look at him, and you say the most expensively-researched coaster in Mar-A-Lago.
HH: That’s funny.
CC: Yup. That’s what it was, and he wound up putting his orange juice right on top of it.
HH: (laughing) He never reads any briefing material, the President, does he?
CC: Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s got to be relatively short, and something that he’s really interested in. He is an audible, an audio learner. He is a verbal learner. He, when you brief the President, you have to do it verbally. That’s the way he enjoys it. That’s the way he learns best. And people who try to buck that lose, because he just won’t do it. So you know, whenever I’ve briefed him on things, both during the campaign and otherwise, it’s always been to do it verbally. That’s the way he enjoys it best. And by the way, that’s the way he learns best.
HH: And there’s a story today about all the executive time on his calendars for the last 90 days, another leak from the White House. And I just finished in the last hour explaining good executives leave a lot of executive time to talk to people on the phone, and to have unscheduled meetings. It does not indict him as lazy.
CC: No, and that’s exactly what I said. I was on CNN this morning, and they asked me the same question. And I said listen, I know what he uses that time for. He’s talking to me during some of that time over the last two years. And I know he speaks to lots of other folks on the telephone and gets a lot of different advice that he wants to get off the grid. And that’s a smart thing for him to do. And it allows him to remain in touch with the outside world and not just be isolated inside the White House hearing just from the same people all the time.
HH: Now I’m talking with Chris Christie about his book, Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In Your Face Politics. I have 8 pages of notes, so we’re going to dive in deep.
HH: I want to start with Meg Whitman. You may not recall this, at the 2012 Convention in Tampa, I introduced Meg, who introduced you to the California delegation.
HH: You two were very close.
HH: She was your campaign finance chair. She should have been the governor of California, in my view. I was in the green room at ABC with Greta, Matt Dowd, and you when the statement from her denouncing your endorsement of President Trump arrived. You turned white as a ghost, Chris Christie.
HH: Have you repaired that relationship?
HH: You want to expand on that a little bit?
CC: Well, I mean, listen, she, Meg doesn’t have an interest in repairing it. I’ve tried.
HH: So do you expect if you were to go in 2024, she’d get back on the horse?
CC: (laughing) I don’t know. It’s a long time away, and I would hope that when some of the passions of the moment subside, that Meg and I could become friends again, because we’ve been friends for a very long time.
HH: You came out here, and you worked your butt off for her. I remember at Orange County, you were doing a Lincoln Club dinner.
HH: And I understand a lot of people were angry with you. I got to stay in Switzerland through the whole campaign, but boy, were people mad at you, because you were the first big deal endorsement. Was it the shock? What was it that made them so upset?
CC: Well, listen, I think if you remember at the time, no one wanted to believe that Donald Trump was going to be the nominee. And as I say in the book, I knew right after the South Carolina primary results that he was going to be the nominee. And you know this, Hugh. You’re a student of this. If anyone other than Donald Trump had come in second by an eyelash in Iowa, won New Hampshire two to one, and won South Carolina by double digits, they would have pronounced the race over. If Mitt Romney had done that in 2012, they would have pronounced the race over. And so I looked at it and said just because it’s Donald Trump doesn’t change the math. This, no one’s going to beat him. He’s got appeal that inside the party that is much broader and much deeper than I ever understood when I was running against him. And so Mary Pat looked at each other and said listen, we’ve got a choice to make. Either we stay out of this thing completely, just sit on the sidelines, or if we’re going to get in, we get in for him, because given our longtime relationship, we’ll actually have an opportunity to make him a better candidate, and hopefully a better president. And that’s ultimately what we decided to do. But the emotions were so high then, the never Trump crowd, the, you know, Marco kind of losing his mind and talking about the size of his hands, and all the rest of that stuff, and Mitt Romney giving that, you know, awful speech, you know, out in Utah, I believe, is where he did it. You know, there was such emotion at that time that, you know, I think that’s why we got the reaction that we did.
HH: I thought the Meg Whitman reaction was actually the foreshadowing of never Trump, which had not yet begun to coalesce. But she sort of launched it. And I have a theory about never Trump, which I’ll come back to. But first, there’s lots of interesting stuff in the campaign and about the President, and about you. But I want to start with Nanny. He is a remarkable woman. And again, I go back to this crazy New Jersey law, did not let you tell her story. Just tell the audience a little bit about what they’ll find in Nanny and your mom, two remarkable American women.
CC: They are. Well, my grandmother, my grandmother was born in this country, first generation. Her parents emigrated here from Sicily. My grandmother was born in Newark. She got into an arranged marriage with my grandfather, found out that my grandfather was having an affair. Now this is 1942. And back in those days in where they grew up, that was not something that was supposed to be objected to. But my grandmother would not have it. And in 1942, she left my grandfather with three young children. And my grandfather never did a thing again, financially, to support them. My grandmother was poor. She went to work for the IRS. She took three buses every morning to get to her job at the IRS. My mom, who was the oldest child of three. She had a younger sister and a younger brother, starting at 10 years old was making their lunches, was walking them to school while my grandmother went off to work. My grandmother never again married. She remained single for the rest of her life. She traveled the world. She was fearless. And she was my inspiration for getting into public life. She was something who every time she had a problem, she wrote to her congressman when she objected to something. When she passed away, we found shoeboxes full of reply letters from the men who represented her in Congress, men like Joe Minish and Peter Frelinghuysen who represented her in Congress in boxes, shoeboxes full of letter, and correspondence between her and her members of Congress. I used to go and stay with her often on weekends. She would, we had a routine on Sunday. On Sunday, Saturday, I would have to do my homework, and I could watch, depending on the season, I could watch a baseball game or a college football game. And on Sunday, we would go to church together, and then we would come home and watch Meet the Press. And that was what she wanted me to do, and that’s what I did. She was an extraordinary woman, and she raised an extraordinary woman in my mother, who faced a lot of the same challenges that my grandmother did.
HH: Well, I saw Nanny in your mom when you mentioned, maybe I’ll work for Tom Kean. So she throws you in the station wagon, drives you to Tom Kean’s house, and says my son might want to work on the campaign.
CC: Oh, yeah, and I mean, listen, my mother drove me up this long, long driveway to get to Tom Kean’s house. And then when I got up to the top of it, she made me get out of the car by myself and said go and ring the doorbell. You want to work for the guy, go ring the doorbell.
HH: You know, Ellis Henican, who helped you with this, he’s a good friend of mine. He helped Rorke Denver. He’s a very good writer. But to get this kind of detail meant you spent a lot of time talking with him and then refining the draft he gave you on your grandmother and mother.
CC: He did.
HH: So it was obviously important. I just can’t believe that New Jersey law.
CC: Yeah, no, it’s crazy.
HH: You never get a chance to tell this on the campaign trail, do you?
CC: No, you don’t, because you don’t have enough time. You don’t have the time, and you know, some, lots of people have asked me about, you know, that campaign in 2016. And the real shame of it was that you had lots of stories to tell, and you could never tell them in front of a large enough group for two reasons, because there was too many candidates as it turned out, and two, because the media was obsessed with Donald Trump.
HH: You know, I did four of these debates. And if I had suggested in the debate room that we ask people about their grandmothers or mothers, you know, Jeff would have thrown me out, and they would, it’s just not going to happen. Page 215, you sum up the campaign, best brief summary of 2016. Jeb Bush locking up so many of the donors who would have come our way, and the total dominance of our political lane by Donald Trump. That’s, in a nutshell, is what happened to you.
CC: There’s no doubt about it. I mean, listen, there are two anecdotes about that, one that’s data-based, and one that’s experience-based, in New Hampshire. We did some polling there in January of 2016. And the polling told us, we asked Trump voters who was their second choice. I was the second choice of 38% of the Trump voters. The next closest was Ted Cruz at 11%. And so we knew immediately what our problem was, and that there was no way really to solve it in the near term. Secondly, it was Mary Pat going door to door in New Hampshire, and she went, said this happened multiple times, that she would go to a door, a woman would answer the door, she introduced herself as my wife, and they’d say oh, we love your husband. He’s so smart and articulate and blunt and direct. I mean, we’re voting for Trump, but we love your husband, and we hope that he makes him vice president or attorney general. And my wife would say well, if you love my husband, why are you voting for Trump? And they’d say oh, dear, we just don’t need another politician.
HH: There you go. Now look, at that New Hampshire debate, I was not on the stage that day, but I was watching it for NBC. You kneecapped Marco. I mean, you kneecapped. Why? Did you have an animus towards him? Were you trying to clear the way for Donald?
CC: No. Two reasons. Remember something. At that point, we were all kind of in a pack together behind Trump. So when I, what we determined from both our polling and from our own strategy was that we could survive to South Carolina if we beat Marco, that you know, if Jeb and Kasich were still there, well, then okay, you’d have the governors run off in South Carolina among the three governors, and who would survive against Trump. But we had to get past Marco. We couldn’t be behind Marco. So from the time we left Iowa, it was our strategy all that week to go after Marco, which is why they asked the question, it was the second question in the debate, because all week, I had been going after Marco as someone who, you know, was Obama-like in terms of his lack of experience, and you know, his lack of depth in terms of, you know, being able to stand up to Hillary Clinton. And so you know, we prepped that all week, and set up that question. So we were prepared that a question was going to be asked about, you know, my attacks on Marco. It had nothing to do with trying to clear the way for Donald. It was trying to clear the way for me. If I could get by Marco, you know, my donors were telling me you know, beat Marco, and we’re going to keep giving you money. And we’ll continue to keep you alive, and let’s see how you do in South Carolina, which as you know, is a much different state than it used to be for a northeasterner, given all the northeasterners that have moved there and living along the coast.
CC: So we had a good organization there, and we thought we’d have a chance in South Carolina to make some real noise. So that’s what the strategy was all about. And you know, we accomplished half of it. You know, we did, you know, expose Marco in that debate for being unprepared and being programmed.
HH: Oh, it was a Black Knight moment for people who watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
HH: His legs were off. And he said he wasn’t bleeding, and I didn’t think he was bleeding out, but he was bleeding out as soon as that moment was over. You know what’s interesting is that go way back in the book, Let Me Finish, to Page 326. After the second presidential debate, President Trump calls you up, and he says you killed Marco. You helped me get ready. I could not have done this without you. His memory for personal stuff like that is incredible.
CC: Oh, yeah. Oh, yes, and listen, you remember another part of the book where I talk about going to a dinner one time with just me, Donald, and Mary Pat where I got caught in traffic coming from New Jersey because of an accident in the Lincoln Tunnel. And I was 45 minutes late for dinner. And he was livid. And he sat there talking to Mary Pat for 45 minutes, and during most of the dinner, he wouldn’t talk to me, because I had been late. And to let you know how he remembers things, this summer, this summer, summer of 2018, Mary Pat and I went to the White House to have dinner with the President and the First Lady, just the four of us. And dinner was for 6:30. And we were there on time. We were waiting in the room for them. He came walking in on time, and he said Chris, you’re here, not like that time when you were 45 minutes late for dinner. That dinner had been 14 years earlier.
HH: (laughing) He’s got this incredible memory. But why does he appear to be so ungrateful to people who have been with him for so long, like you?
CC: You know, you know, Hugh, there’s a former staff member of his who shall remain nameless who said to me he is the least loyal to the people who are the most loyal to him. And there is some truth to that. And I think that you know, he’s always looking to obtain new friends, to expand his circle, all of which is a good thing. But sometimes in the process of that, he forgets about the people who have been in the circle for a very long time.
HH: Let’s go large, and then we’ll come back small. Page 236 when you endorse him, “This was a practical decision by me. An election is a binary choice. I did not want Hillary Clinton to be president.” That was it for me. I didn’t decide until the day of. I actually sent my ballot from the post office across from the Harvard Club. It cost me $60 bucks to California, because they’ll count ballots for two days after they’re postmarked. But I really was afraid something else was coming out after Hollywood Access that just would make it just impossible. But it was a binary choice. I mean, there just, I mean, that’s the reality of American politics.
CC: Well, it’s true. And listen, they were the two least popular major nominees of a party going into an election in recent history. And one of things that I said, and I detail this in the book to the now-President, is listen, like you know, whoever they’re talking about when they go into the voting booth on Election Day is the one who’s going to lose. Usually, whoever they’re talking about is the one they’re going to win. But in this race, whoever they were talking about was the one that was going to lose. And because of Jim Comey’s actions, they were still talking about Hillary Clinton. And I think that had a large part to do with his victory and her defeat.
HH: Now what comes through in Let Me Finish is that you had open door privileges. You could just walk in. You walk in a lot, in fact.
HH: People, I made a note of the number of times you walk in. You never once caught him reading, Chris Christie. Are you aware of that in the book?
CC: (laughing) I am.
HH: And so, does he read anything? I know he’s a one pager kind of guy, but does he read anything?
CC: He does. He reads newspapers.
HH: Oh, that’s interesting.
CC: He reads newspapers, and I could tell you from experience that like for instance when I was U.S. Attorney, and there would be stories whether it was in the, his two favorite papers to read at least back then when we were friends in New York were the Times and the Post, and New York Post. And if there was any story about me in the New York Times or the New York Post, invariably, I would receive the actual news clip, not some printout, but the actual news clip with a note from him in black Sharpie…
HH: Of course.
CC: …saying Chris, great story, great job, proud of you, Donald.
HH: That’s old school.
CC: And that’s what he does. And so I would see him all the time reading the newspaper. And that’s his, I think, his favorite reading pastime.
HH: You know, I’m a contributing columnist to the Washington Post. I’m always trying to get it in the paper as opposed to the website, because I have a feeling in D.C., a lot of people read the newspaper. One of them is the President.
CC: No doubt.
HH: Again, Let Me Finish has a lot of Trump in it, so I want to trot out my grand theory of Trump to someone who knows better than anyone. The President, like all developers at his level, and I worked for them for 30 years as a lawyer, they are whatever they need to be in whatever room they find themselves in with whomever is in that room, because time is money, and the entitlements have to move forward, and the models get open. He’s just a developer.
CC: Correct. Correct. I think you read him very well. I think he, you know, this is a guy who believes, and this will explain Kim Jung Un a bit.
HH: Yup. Yup.
CC: This is a guy who believes that when he gets in a room, he can convince anyone of anything. And it is fairly consistent with his experience as a developer, not completely consistent, but it’s consistent enough. And he believes the same thing with Putin, the same thing with Erdogan. He believes if he gets in a room with someone, he can convince them of what he’s trying to argue – President Xi of China. All these folks are people he wants to meet with personally and alone, because he believes that the power of his personality can bring them around.
HH: And developers are also very aware of sunk costs and the theory of you walk away from them. You don’t double down on a loser. You just walk away from them. Let’s talk about the people around him, specifically Corey Lewandowski, Stephen Miller, Paul Manifort, Michael Flynn, Stephen Bannon, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, and David Bossie are all treated in Let Me Finish. You have got some sympathy for Corey Lewandowski, though you call him manic. Stephen Miller, you are hands-off, though you are, I would say, your eyebrows are raised a little bit about him. About Paul Manifort, you judged immediately he was old, slow, and out of the game. About Flynn, you thought he was crazy. About Bannon, we’ll come back to Bannon, evil snake that you call him to be. Reince is a good friend of mine. He appears to be a good friend of yours. You have great admiration for Kellyanne Conway. And you’ve got great admiration for David Bossie. This is a truly, you know, like it’s an Indians lineup from the 60s. We’ve got, like, three out of nine people work here.
CC: Yeah, well, listen, I think the fact is that I try to evaluate people based upon my experience with them and what I observe. And that’s why this is not one of these typical books. I mean, when people deserve to be complimented, in here, I do. And when people deserve, you know, to be criticized, I do based upon what I observed and my experience. And so, on Corey, for instance, Corey was manic. But man, he took a candidate who had no experience, and got him to a place where the candidate trusted Corey completely. And I remember, we’d tell the story about me and my old law partner, a national committee guy named Bill Palatucci…
CC: You know, coming on the plane after I endorsed Trump, and Bill said are we waiting for everybody else, or are we taking off now? And Trump said who else are we waiting for? This is the whole team. It was Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and Keith Schiller, the President’s body guy, and that was it. And Bill turned to me, looked at me, and said we lost to this?
HH: (laughing) Now I’m going to come to Bannon in a second. Peter Navarro, I’ve known for 25 years. He lives a mile from me. He’s a lefty. He was an anti-developer candidate, perennial losing candidate in San Diego. What is he doing in the White House?
CC: This is the President’s collection of friends, right? This is, because remember something. This is a President who, as you and I both know, is not always a conservative. This is a President who donated to lots of Democrats, and had lots of Democrat causes that he supported earlier in his life. And so the President doesn’t hold that against someone if he thinks they’re someone who could provide some type of value to him today. And Navarro on the trade issue is someone who he is simpatico with.
HH: All right, Steve Bannon, Page 329. “Steve Bannon is a fraud, a nobody and a liar. After getting fired by the President for being the biggest leaker in the West Wing, and that is quite a distinction given the leaky crew that was there for the first seven months, Bannon launched a never-ending mission to diminish others and rehabilitate himself. It was a shame and a surprise that Bob Woodward allowed himself to be used on such a fool’s errand.” I spent a lot of time talking to Bob Woodward. And now, I have to think, because you’re just so obviously candidly honest in Let Me Finish, the Woodward book isn’t worth a piece of paper.
CC: Well, let me just say this. I can only tell you that there were at least two instances in Bob’s book where he reported on a conversation that occurred allegedly between me and Steve Bannon. And as reported by him, we were the only two people in the room. And Bob Woodward never called me to ask my side of the story.
HH: That’s bad reporting. I have to ask Bob about that.
CC: That’s just bad reporting. Now his excuse to me when I confronted him about this, after the book came out, was well, the White House told me who I could speak to and who I couldn’t speak to. And you weren’t on the list of people I could speak to. And I said well, I didn’t work for the White House, so why are you governed by the White House about who you can speak to and who you can’t? I mean, it made no sense to me. I think he liked Steve’s version of the story. It was colorful, and it was fiction. And Bob didn’t want to change it…
CC: …because it made it spicy for the book…
HH: And sold some books.
CC: But it was untrue.
HH: Now in Let Me Finish, you’re very blunt. I have great admiration for Jeff Sessions. He was a lousy Attorney General. He should not have taken the job. That is your assessment, correct?
HH: And when David Souter interviewed with George H.W. Bush, he ought to have told George H.W. Bush I’m not your guy. What is it about people that they don’t reveal to prinicpals that they’re not the right choice?
CC: They want the job. I mean, I think it was that simple. With Jeff, he wanted the job. And I think that, you know, listen…
HH: I just don’t get that, Governor. You wouldn’t take the Department of Labor. I wouldn’t take a job anywhere. I just don’t get people not saying I’m not your guy.
CC: No, listen, I didn’t take Labor, because I had no interest in it. I didn’t take Homeland Security, because I wasn’t the right person to execute the mission the President wants executed in that department. And so to me, that’s what you do when you’re lawyer to the principal and loyal to the country. I mean, don’t need another title, Hugh. I mean, I’ve got governor, I’ve got U.S. attorney, husband, father, son. I’m fine. I’ve got plenty of titles for the rest of my life. My obituary is squared away.
HH: No, you’ve got one trouble. You’re a Mets fan.
CC: Yeah, well, listen, you’re not kidding. You know who knows that better than anybody? Mets fans, Hugh.
HH: If you had been the attorney general, and you were on the short list, would you have had to recuse yourself for any reason? Had you met with any Russian at any time?
CC: Nope. Nope.
HH: Would you have appointed Mueller had you been the attorney general?
CC: No, because I would have never recused, and I would have overseen the investigation.
HH: All right. What do you think Huber is doing with Strzok and Page and McCabe? You are yourself a U.S. attorney, so you’re one of the few people who actually know how to read this.
HH: I used to do FISA warrants for Bill Smith and Ed Meese. This is the stinkiest damn thing I’ve seen in a long time. What do you think Huber is up to?
CC: I don’t know. I’ll tell you this. Those people are awful choices. And you get judged by your personnel choices. And you know, I think all of what went on in that, you know, circle, is questionable. And then when you have Strzok actually working on the Mueller probe, it’s bad. It’s just a bad thing. And I think, and I think Bob, you know, should have vetted those people better. In my experience, he’s more careful than that.
HH: You say Bob. Is he a friend?
CC: Well, listen, I consider him a colleague. I worked with him for seven years when I was U.S. Attorney. He was director of the FBI. And we had interaction on a number of matters during my time as U.S. attorney.
HH: I’ve always said the President should not touch him. I don’t know him personally, but a lot of people like Fred Fielding, who’s a good friend of mine, say he’s absolutely incorruptible, you can trust him. Do you agree with that?
CC: I do. I believe, and I’ve told the President this. I believe in his integrity and his honesty. But I also told the President he’s an assassin. Bob Mueller takes no prisoners. Bob Mueller, remember, this is a guy, Hugh, and this is all you need to know about Bob Mueller. U.S. attorney in San Francisco in the Bush 41 administration, he is fired along with all the other U.S. attorneys when Bill Clinton becomes president. After a short period of time, he calls Eric Holder, who is at that time the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, and asks Eric for a job prosecuting murder cases on the local side of the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. This is a guy who just loves being a prosecutor…
CC: …and absolutely takes no prisoners.
HH: Do you think…
CC: And so I told the President from the beginning, and this is going to be, in February of ’17, I told him this is going to go on for a long time, because Bob Mueller is going to look under every rock.
HH: And you gave him great advice. He can make it longer. He can’t make it shorter, and he’s made it longer.
HH: Do you think he ought to call it a witch hunt? I don’t.
CC: No, I don’t, and I’ve told him dozens of times to stop doing that. And you see how successful I’ve been.
HH: I have told him over the air and in print, I don’t talk to him the way you do, that he should not refer to the press as the enemy of the people. Have you repeated that advice to him?
CC: Yes, sir.
HH: All right. Lots of nuggets in Let Me Finish that just made me put down the book. Steve Schmidt interviewed to take over the Trump campaign, post-Corey?
CC: Yes, he did.
HH: That’s just unbelievable, given…
CC: Oh, yeah.
HH: …given his attitude on MSNBC.
HH: Yup, he did.
HH: All right, never Trumpers, I’ve got to ask you about this, I have a theory. Never Trumpers primarily are those who were disintermediated by Donald Trump because of the money and influence they previously had, was not there after he won. What do you think?
CC: I think that’s part of it. I think it’s also that he was just so offensive to them on a personal level, that his approach that he is kind of no holds barred, I’ll say anything about anyone kind of styles, is just not the way they played politics. I mean, for instance, I’ll give you an example, which I don’t believe is in the book. But Mitt Romney, you know, should have endorsed someone in the presidential primary early. I had hoped he was going to endorse me. We had a lot of conversations about it. He had told me he was down to deciding between me or Marco, and then decided to endorse neither of us. And when I got out of the race, and Trump moved forward in the race, then Mitt called me and said well, what should we do here? Should we be with Marco? Or should we be with John Kasich? And I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation. I’m like, I said you know, Mitt, I don’t care to do anything as a team right now with you. Mary Pat and I have to figure out what we want to do on our own. As you know, there were only four governors out of the 30 or so Republican governors who were available to do so, only four who endorsed anyone. Three of them endorsed me – Paul LePage, Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan. One endorsed John Kasich. That was Governor Bentley down in Alabama. Everyone else sat on the sidelines, and I will tell you, Hugh, if I had a nickel for every time I talked to one of my colleagues and they said give me another week or two and we’ll see how it shakes out…
CC: You know, the never Trumpers, to me, were a day late and a dollar short.
HH: Yeah, but now, they’re continuing, their continuing anger in the face of Gorusch and Kavanaugh and 30 Circuit Court appointments, in the face of being tough on Russia, leading Venezuela’s, bombing Syria, standing with Israel, I mean, I can go on at length. It’s just, it’s crazy. Let me ask you…
CC: Well, you know what it is, Hugh.
HH: What is it?
CC: They want to be right.
CC: More than they want the right thing to be done for the country, they want to be right.
HH: Good argument. Let me ask you a little bit about Comey. Do you know him?
CC: I do very well.
HH: What’s up with him?
CC: Listen, this is a guy who changed in the years that I knew him. When I first met Jim Comey, it was 2002. We were both U.S. attorneys, neighboring U.S. attorneys. He was in Manhattan. I was in New Jersey. And we worked on matters together. And I found Jim to be smart and funny and tough, and a really good lawyer. And then, he became my boss as the deputy attorney general of the United States. And I will tell you that universally, while we all loved Larry Thompson, who was his predecessor, when Larry left, we thought wow, the President got it right again. He picked the best among us, and he picked Jim. But then, when Jim had that incident at John Ashcroft’s hospital bed, much discussed, where he stood up to Al Gonzales and Andy Card…
HH: Gonzales, right.
CC: He changed. He began to read his own press clippings and believe them.
HH: Hero complex.
CC: Yup. And he became a different person. And I will tell you this, and I wrote this in the book. If we, if any one of us had ever done what Jim did vis-à-vis Hillary Clinton, which as an FBI director comes out there and announces who’s going to be prosecuted and who isn’t, and instead of just saying no prosecution and ending it, but then excoriates the person who he’s telling everybody he won’t prosecute, if any of us had ever done a show like that in our district, we would have been fired within 15 minutes by Jim Comey.
HH: Well, let’s pause there for a moment, Governor Christie, because again, I’m a DOJ alum. The Rosenstein memo was 100% correct. I was on with Joe and Mika the morning it came out, and I said yeah, he should be fired. FBI doesn’t decide who gets prosecuted in this country.
HH: Isn’t that the bottom line?
CC: It’s the bottom line. And you know, it would be like, and I said to any of my U.S. attorney colleagues who initially tried to defend Jim on that, my former colleagues, I’d say to them if the FBI special agent in charge in your district held a press conference without you there announcing that they had recommended that you not prosecute someone, what would you have done?
CC: And they, exactly, they all said we would have gone to the FBI director and try to get him fired. And I’m like well, what are we doing here?
CC: Now you know, he can say whatever he wants about how Loretta Lynch was compromised. And in fact, she probably was. But she’s still the attorney general.
HH: Sally Yates.
CC: That’s not the point. Sally Yates was there, was not compromised.
CC: Sally Yates should have been making those decisions and those announcements. But Jim believed that Jim could do no wrong. And that’s where he got himself in trouble, and you can see that manifesting itself to today with some of the stuff he’s done since then.
HH: Oh, his tweets are so embarrassing. Let’s go to election night. On election night, I was on the NBC News main set with Carville, Chuck Todd, Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Brokaw and me. And as I left at 3:00 in the morning, I looked up to see, and I didn’t want bodies to hit me jumping off of the top of the building, I think I was the only guy at 30 Rock who voted for Donald Trump. You were with Reince. And I quote, “Reince looked at me and said you understood this before anybody else. Not before anybody else, I corrected him. I didn’t understand it before him.” In other words, you really believe Trump intuited this.
CC: I think he did. I think he did, Hugh, and I think that you know, listen, I think when he initially got into the race, he got into the race because he had always wanted to run for president. He was 69 years old at the time, and knew if he didn’t do it now, it was probably his last chance. So I think that’s why he initially got into it. But I think that as he got into meeting with people and traveling the country, he understood the mood of the country better than any of the other candidates did. And when you combine that with his 100% name ID from the years on The Apprentice, and the money that he had, that that was an absolutely unstoppable combination.
HH: One more ingredient, Governor. I did four of these debates. He knows television. And he knew how to command a stage. You do, too. Kasich wouldn’t even stay on his mark. John just wandered around.
HH: But the President just knows television.
CC: And listen, let’s face it about the media, too, Hugh. Whenever any of the media folks complain to me about Donald Trump, I say to them you created him. I mean, think about this, and this is the stuff that as a candidate annoyed the hell out of me. No one in the history of presidential politics in my knowledge, you know, ever was allowed to do phoners into Sunday talk shows. I mean, if we wanted to get on a Sunday talk show, if we could get on it as a candidate, we either had to have a remote setup, which was tough for them, to get them to pay for…
CC: Or we had to show up in studio either in New York or in Washington, depending upon where the show was hosted. Donald Trump got to sit in his living room at Trump Tower and call into four or five Sunday shows a weekend, and they would take it. Why? Because as he said it himself, he was ratings gold.
HH: He was the best interview available, I mean, he just was.
HH: Let me go to the campaign now.
HH: Do you watch Game of Thrones?
HH: All right. If you did, you would know what I meant. You versus Jared is like the Red Viper versus the Mountain, but this time, the Mountain lost and the Red Viper wasn’t careless. It was a very long knife fight with Jared. And he took you out. Is that a fair summary?
CC: Yeah. Yes.
HH: My question, if you had, if he had done to Nanny what you had done to his father, wouldn’t you have taken him out in the same fashion?
HH: Come on.
CC: No. You know why? Because if Nanny committed those awful crimes, I would have had to give her some measure of the responsibility.
HH: No, look, this isn’t Don Corleone, going back to Sicily in Godfather II. It’s just a well-executed plan of exile that he followed through on. Do you at least admire the elegance of his take out?
CC: I admire the persistence of it.
HH: Okay. Now Charles Kushner, about his prosecution, Jared, you quote, as saying it wasn’t fair. And I’ve got to tell you, Governor, I kind of agree with him. So tell me why a Mann Act, a federal prosecution for the Mann Act, why not a state crime? I mean, your memoir details that basically you picked three public officials at random in New Jersey, and you have two public corruption trials. Why depart from big game hunting for a Mann Act prosecution?
CC: Well, hold on, Hugh. It was not just a Mann Act prosecution. The Mann Act prosecution, we stumbled onto very late in the prosecution. This is someone who pled guilty to 18 counts of federal tax evasion. This is someone who pled guilty to multiple counts of violating federal election law by forging the signatures of people on campaign contributions that they did not make so that he could donate more money. So that’s what the prosecution was, the investigation was. As we were doing that investigation, Hugh, his sister comes forward to us voluntarily and presents us with this videotape of her husband having sex with a woman in a hotel room. And this videotape was mailed to her to arrive on the day of her son’s engagement party. And while she’s telling me this story, I’m sitting in my office saying well, what’s this got to do with me? And she said to me, well, I know my brother, Charles, did this. And I said well, how do you know? And she put her hand on her husband’s shoulder, and she said Charlie plays on people’s weaknesses. Billy has a weakness. Charlie played on it.
HH: It’s great writing. It’s great writing. I just, I keep going back, you call it an ancient grudge, by the way, on Page 250. But it wasn’t ancient. Man, it’s fresh. You know, you don’t get to choose when the enemy quits. It’s first generation. How could you not have known he’d do whatever he needed to do to ice you? Was it a big blind spot on your part?
CC: No, I don’t think it was a blind spot on my part. I believed him when he told me that what his first, first priority was, was to get his father-in-law elected president of the United States. And I believed him.
HH: He got that, and then he turned to Plan B, which was to get rid of Christie.
CC: Well, that’s right. And by the way, I don’t understand, quite frankly from you, how a man hiring a prostitute to go after his sister’s husband…
HH: Oh, it’s terrible. I just thought it was a state crime.
CC: Well, I mean, and it’s not only a Mann Act violation, that’s witness tampering. The reason he did it, and where he was ultimately pled guilty to, was witness tampering, because she was testifying before the grand jury on both the tax evasion investigation…
HH: Oh, look, they got jurisdiction. I just would have said here’s one for the state guys. This is not me. If I was the U.S. attorney, I would have said this is a state guy. But let’s not get…
CC: But Hugh, wait a second. No, I can’t let this go…
CC: Because these are federal tax crimes.
HH: I know. And…
CC: So what am I supposed to do? Hand that to the state? They have no jurisdiction.
HH: You should have handed the witness tampering to him and then after that was done, go after federal tax evasion, because the main genesis was…
CC: No, Hugh, let me tell you, this is a guy who is, who is thumbing his nose at the integrity of our process by trying to intimidate witnesses from cooperating with a federal investigation. If we let those people go, our system will have nothing left.
HH; I’m just, we can talk about this for a long time. But when you’ve got New Jersey, again, like every…
CC: You call me off the air. By the way, that didn’t, call me off the air, and we’ll argue it for days. But I’ll tell you this. It didn’t prevent me from doing anything in New Jersey, because I did, in seven years, 130 political corruption prosecutions, Republicans and Democrats, and we were 130-0.
HH: I agree. I am kind of stunned.
CC: So it didn’t prevent me from doing anything.
HH: I am kind of stunned at how much just corruption is in the Garden State. It was…
CC: Well, you know, listen. We pride ourselves, Hugh, on having some of the dumbest criminals in America. We really do.
HH: You do. Let me go back to the campaign. Page 239, first time the President, not then the president, meets with Mike Pence. At the end, Mike Pence, who I’ve known for a long time, says he wants to pray with you and Trump. The President, afterwards, says interesting. Does Donald believe in God?
CC: Yes. Yes, he does. Donald does believe in God, but I’ll tell you this. I don’t think he is accustomed to ending meetings with prayer.
HH: All right. Okay, secondly, the bad karma stuff, which I just laughed throughout, you just smiled. It doesn’t surprise me he’d be back to that again. “A thought once lodged in Donald’s head never leaves until it’s good and ready to go.” And so he kept saying bad karma to you, bad karma to you, bad karma to you. But I see that pattern again and again with Trump. You get something in there, and the President isn’t going to let it go.
CC: That’s very true. That’s him. And I knew that the bad karma thing would continue, but I also knew that he knew that legally, it had to be done. And while he didn’t like it, his basic position with me was don’t talk to me about it. I don’t want to know what’s going on, and I think he thought in his own mind that if he wasn’t, if he didn’t have present information about it, that the karma would somehow not be as bad.
HH: All right, now there are, that actually makes sense if you’re superstitious.
HH: I count five different times when the call comes for the Christie fire brigade – Judge Curiel, I count the Khan’s…
HH: I count debate prep, hiring Bill Stepien, and then Access Hollywood. I want to walk through them.
HH: The first time I blew up with Donald Trump was Judge Curiel, because I will not support a racist. And that was racist. I don’t think Donald Trump is a racist. Do you?
HH: Why not?
CC: Because I’ve known him for 17 years, and I’ve seen him interact with people of every different race and ethnic background, and have never seen him treat people with anything but absolute respect in that regard.
HH: And I can smell them a mile away, and I just didn’t see it. But those comments about Judge Curiel, you had to change, or it would have been, I said at the time, this is a plane headed to a mountain if he didn’t stop, but he stopped.
HH: Did you get him to stop? Are you the guy?
CC: Well, it was me and Ivanka.
HH: Oh, that makes sense.
CC: It was me and Ivanka together. Ivanka made that call to me to come in and talk to him about Judge Curiel. Ivanka and I put together a statement for him to consider. We sat in his office and talked to him for a good, long while about it. He added some things to the statement about Trump University and defending Trump University.
HH: That’s in the book, yeah.
CC: And I said to Ivanka, like you know, let’s not sweat the small stuff. The rest of the stuff, he still has in there. This will end the issue if he sticks by it, and he did stick by it.
HH: Yeah, the second time the Christie fire brigade comes is with the Khans. You write that lulls can be dangerous times for Donald Trump. Reince Priebus told me rainy Sundays are the Devil’s workshop. You know, you went in and said are we running against the Khans, and that cut through it. But there is a lack of ability to understand that you don’t punch down, isn’t there?
CC: Yes. Donald Trump punches everyone.
CC: It’s, he believes any punch thrown from any position necessitates a counterpunch. And you cannot convince him that punching down is beneath him. He believes everybody is to be punched if they throw a punch at him.
HH: You know, I’ve got, but what he considers a punch, I’ve got a couple of Trump tattoos, because I asked him about his tax returns. I asked him about Soleimani and the Kurds. I asked him about the nuclear triad. I mean, I’m just like kryptonite to him. But I don’t take it personally. You can’t go after a Gold Star family. I guess that’s the message you took to him.
CC: That’s what I said to him. I said listen, you know, he was complaining about how unfair the father was to him in the things he said and all the rest of it. And I said listen, you could be 100% right, but it doesn’t matter. They gave their son for the country. They’re entitled to say whatever it is they want to say.
HH: Whatever they want.
CC: And you have to just suck it up and forget it. And every minute you spend talking about the Khans diminishes you and takes our eye off the ball with Hillary Clinton. And that call came from Jared. Jared called and asked me to come talk to him about the Khans.
HH: Next call, I think it’s Jared again, debate prep number one is a nightmare. I mean, you’ve got Laura Ingraham in there who’s very, very smart. But I’m wondering, a radio talk show host? Really? And you’ve got Mike Flynn, who’s going off on, you’ve got like 30 people in there.
CC: Oh, it was crazy. It was totally crazy. It was, and what he would do is after each answer, he would go around the entire table to ask people what he thought until he found someone who liked his answer, and then he would move on. And most of the time, the person who would say he liked the answer was Mike Flynn.
HH: Yeah, well, you know, I know someone who knows Mike Flynn very well who commanded him, and says he’s the best intelligence officer in the field that America’s ever had. It just doesn’t translate to politics.
HH: Often, military doesn’t.
HH: Hiring Step. You had to fire him. You said go for it. They wouldn’t have won Pennsylvania without Step, right?
HH: Okay, that’s the third time. Last time, Hollywood Access. “It would not be, it would be hard to think of any way to fully capture just how not good they were.” At that point, I called on him to drop out. I was with Reince. Get out.
HH: You know, you can’t win this thing. You never counseled him to get out?
CC: No. Two reasons. One was that I said to him she is simply the worst presidential candidate of my lifetime, so you don’t know what could happen with her between now and then. And if she gives you an opening, you could still win this thing. And secondly, I knew my friend, Donald Trump, much better than Reince did. He was never going to quit. And this was the conversation between Reince and I that day in his apartment. I said Reince, don’t give him advice that there’s no chance he’s going to take, because he will never quit. He would rather get 10% of the vote and lose 90-10 than quit. That’s just not Donald Trump. He’s not a quitter, and he won’t quit.
HH: Is the Hollywood Access tape worse than what Ralph Northam finds himself in?
CC: No. God, no. No.
HH: And by the way, if you had ever been in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan, would you have misremembered being in it and then the next day say you weren’t?
HH: I mean, I don’t believe him.
CC: Yeah, you know, listen. Here’s the bottom line, and I said this, this morning on CNN. You know, the problem for him besides the underlying issue is that he’s been all over the place since then. And I can’t imagine that if you put that picture on your yearbook page that you wouldn’t know who the people in the picture were, and if it was, if you were one of them, that you wouldn’t know whether it was you or not.
HH: And you would go tear out every page, and you would throw a fit. Let me close, because I know I’ve got to let you go at the top of the hour, and then you’re going to come back and talk to me afterwards. Rudy agrees to do all of the Sunday shows after Access Hollywood coms out.
HH: That’s why he’s his lawyer right now, I think. Rudy is fearless. I love the story about his announcing his endorsement of you on the front lawn of John Corzine’s apartment in Hoboken.
HH: But is that why Rudy is there, because he took the bullet at Hollywood Access?
CC: Well, I think not for that reason in particular, but I think what you said before, is that Rudy is fearless. And I think that the President knows that Rudy is fearless, and that Rudy will go out and do what the President wants him to do. And I’ve said to many people, I think Rudy is acting as much as his legal spokesman as he is as his lawyer. And he’s doing the things that the President wants him to do. And I think Rudy does them often because he’d prefer them to come out of his mouth than his client’s. And I think that’s a lawyer protecting his client. But I will tell you that Kellyanne and I were both really frustrated that night that Rudy volunteered to do it, because what we were attempting to do was to get Donald to do the interview. And then if he knew that both Kellyanne and I were saying listen, we can’t answer these questions until you answer them, that we would get him to do the David Muir interview that we wanted him to do, because we thought it was so important for him to get out there in some way before the debate to try to defuse it at least a little bit. And then when Rudy raised his hand and said I’ll do all of them, well, that killed that strategy. And Rudy went on the next day, and quite frankly, the President wasn’t happy with what he did, and gave Rudy holy hell over how he performed on the shows.
HH: But Comey saves you.
CC: Yes, he does.
HH: Did Comey win Donald Trump the election?
CC: I believe that Comey was the single biggest factor in changing the momentum after Access Hollywood and before the election.
HH: So that’s a yes.
HH: So now, weren’t you worried, as I was, the reason I didn’t say I would never vote for him is because it was going to be Hillary or him if he was still on the ticket, and I wasn’t going to vote for Hillary. Just like you, it’s a binary choice.
HH: But weren’t you worried there was more? What about the Mark Burnett tapes that allegedly exist? Were you, did you ever ask him if there’s more?
CC: We all asked him on Access Hollywood weekend, and he told us that there weren’t. Now you know, I don’t know whether there are or there are not. He’s told me that there weren’t. None have surfaced, so I take the President at his word. But I can tell you this. On Access Hollywood, he didn’t even remember that tape. I mean, and if you look at it contextually, why would he? He probably did not know he was being recorded at that time, didn’t think or remember that it was a hot mic. He’s on a bus with Billy Bush going to do Access Hollywood. This is not like one of those, you know, bucket list moments for Donald Trump.
HH: But there’s no tape of Chris Christie using that kind of locker room talk.
CC: No, no.
HH: I mean, it wasn’t locker, and I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms. It wasn’t locker room talk.
CC: (laughing) Listen, no, there is no tape of me using that kind of language. But you know…
HH: All right, last question before I let you go, and then you’re going to come back in 15 minutes for a little podcast. You say there was no conspiracy. There’s too much chaos. You make a very good, if Mueller reads your book, it’s over. We’ll get the report tomorrow. Is it, in fact, your belief there’s no collusion, no conspiracy?
CC: It is my belief based upon what I observed. I don’t have definitive knowledge of all this like Bob Mueller will have, but based upon my experience, listen, Jared Kushner calls me in August, and I use this as an example, to say how many field operatives do we need in Pennsylvania? And I said well, how many do we have? And he said well, we don’t have any. This is 60 days before the election.
CC: And so a campaign that’s running by the back of an envelope like this with folks who have never run a political campaign of any kind before, let alone one of a presidential nature, you know, the idea that they were running some Tom Clancy operation with the Russians just doesn’t ring true to me.
HH: But now you work for ABC. I work for NBC. And I go on Meet the Press, and you go on This Week. You know our friends are never going to accept a Mueller report even if it comes with like in bold print there was no collusion. They’re never going to accept it, will they, Chris Christie?
CC: No, of course not. But you know what? They’ll have to, because they have spent the last two years saying what a great guy Bob Mueller is and how we should trust his report. And so they can come back and criticize it afterwards, and they will. I totally agree with you, Hugh, that that’s exactly what they’ll do. But guys like you and I are going to be able to say well, wait a second, you know, we said we’d count on the Mueller report, too. We’re sticking by our word. You’re just result oriented, and that’s why the American people won’t trust you to be president, because you don’t have principles. You just have situational principles.
HH: Last question before the break. Everybody that you and I know in big media loved him during the campaign because he was a great interview, great for ratings, and they loathe him now. It’s not even Nixon level hatred. It’s Trump Derangement Syndrome.
HH: Am I right? I just want you to confirm that that’s what you run into.
CC: Oh, it’s absolutely correct. And I get angry about it in a way that’s probably different than you. I’ll give you an example, and I think I may have put this in the book. I went and did three town hall meetings one day in Iowa. I probably had 900 people between the three town hall meetings. And I worked my rear end off. Two-hour meetings each one. I finally got back to my hotel in Des Moines. There’s no room service. I order a pizza from Dominos. I turn on the TV, and CNN is running Donald Trump’s speech from somewhere live for an entire hour. And I say to myself, what am I doing?
CC: What am I doing? This is ridiculous. And so you know, if anybody from these networks complains to me about Donald Trump, I say to them you know, are you kidding me? Like you guys give him an hour of free prime time over and over again, you let him phone in from Trump Tower to your Sunday Shows over and over and over again, which you did for no other candidate, and you’re going to complain to me now?
HH: That’s well put.
CC: You took the money of the table. That’s what you did.
HH: We’ll pause here. You’ll call me at 9:15 and have a good interview in between. This one will be podcast. Chris Christie’s book, Let Me Finish, is a must-read. Really, it’s the best of its kind, at least the equal of any political memoir I’ve read, and we’ll continue the conversation about it later.
CC: Thanks, Hugh.
HH: Thank you, Chris.
— – – – – –
HH: Joined now again by Governor Chris Christie. His brand new book is Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In Your Face Politics. Governor, welcome back. I want to pick up on the convention and the fact that when the lock her up chants began, you wanted no part of that. Would you explain why?
CC: I just think that that’s kind of banana republic stuff. I just, we have a justice system that I am very committed to and spent a good part of my life professionally committed to, and I think this lock her up stuff just was beyond the pale, and I just wouldn’t participate it. And even during my speech, when I was bringing what I called the indictment against her activities as Secretary of State, when they started to do the lock her up, I would just back away from the microphone and not participate and not speak anymore, because I just didn’t want to be part of it.
HH: Good aesthetics. Now the question becomes what ought the new attorney general, Bill Barr, do about the lingering questions of FBI abuse of the process in 2016 and the handling of her server? Are we, do we have closure on that?
CC: No, not yet, and I think that Chris Wray, the FBI director, has done a lot in terms of moving the Comey era leadership out of the FBI. And he’s gotten rid of 10-12 people in the upper echelons of the FBI over the course of his time there, a little over a year now. But I think that Bill has an excellent opportunity to work with a great FBI director, and someone whose integrity…
HH: Your lawyer. Your lawyer…
CC: He was my lawyer, absolutely. And I recommended him to the President for FBI director.
HH: All right, now he is susceptible, the President is, to bad information driving out good information. It’s sort of like Gresham’s law, right?
HH: And he reads things like Drudge Report polls. Is he aware of this vulnerability?
CC: I think he is, but I just think he likes to see the good news, you know? I think, we write about that in the book. On the night of the first debate when Jared called me and asked me what I thought, and I said he lost, and Jared said well, he doesn’t think he did. And I said well, of course he doesn’t think he did. He never does. And he said well, you need to call him and tell him he lost, because he respects you as a debater and as a politician, and you’re the only person he’ll hear it from. So I picked up the phone, I’d been at the debate live. I picked up the phone and called him and told him he lost. And one of the things he said to me on the call was what are you talking about? I’m getting 94% of the vote on the Drudge Report poll.
HH: I know, yeah.
CC: And I said to him, Donald, 100% of the people who go on Drudge Report are voting for you. That means you lost 6% of the people who are already voting for you, like, and this didn’t go well. And I think, so I think he does recognize it, but I do think he likes to see the good news every once in a while. There are places like that, and it makes him feel better.
HH: He is vulnerable to fact-specific questions. I mentioned earlier, I asked him about triad, ISIS, he’s got a sense of humor. Barack Obama, didn’t create ISIS, Soleimani, Kurds, taxes, is he worried? Does he ever prepare for any interview with the press?
CC: You know, he does. I’ve seen him prepare. But I think that he really believes, and we’ve talked about this before, he believes that if he walks into any room, that he’s going to be able to convince that person, whether it’s a reporter or whether it’s a leader of another country, or whether it’s a member of Congress, of his point of view. And he has what he has in his head, and he’s going to use it and bludgeon you with it. That’s just the way he is.
HH: Last campaign question. You have a very high opinion of Kellyanne Conway. You said she had an inside game and an outside game. What is the deal with George Conway?
CC: Listen, you know what, Hugh? One of the things that I have discovered after 32 years of marriage to Mary Pat is I don’t try to analyze anybody else’s marriage. I just think it’s a perilous area to venture into. You know, I think only the people inside that marriage can determine how something works or doesn’t work. All I can tell you is that about Kellyanne, is that she is, in my mind, one of the real political talents in our party, in our country, and she’s also an extraordinarily loyal person. And that combination is difficult to find in our business. But in terms of me analyzing what’s going on in their marriage, can’t go near it, because I mean, I wouldn’t want somebody trying to figure out why Mary Pat stayed with me for 32 years.
HH: Almost didn’t work. I mean, the very candid beginning of Let Me Finish…
HH: You guys were together and not together. What I can’t believe is she had 9 brothers and sisters, and you made it through the vetting.
CC: (laughing) Let me tell you, you know, we didn’t write in the book about my first, my first meeting with all of them was at a party in 1984. And five of her six brothers were there, plus her dad. And so I got, forget the onceover, I got the six over. And you know, somehow, I survived it, you know? And the best one was her older brother, Pete, who’s an auto body mechanic. And he opened up a beer with his teeth. And he looked at me, and he goes, my sister seems pretty happy. And I said I think she is. And he goes, keep it that way. And he turned around and walked away.
HH: You say she’s got, Kellyanne Conway’s got the one great ability. She knows how to talk to Donald Trump.
CC: She does.
HH: You apparently do as well. He’s a funny guy, is he not?
CC: Listen, the President is one of those guys who if you don’t know him well, it is difficult to effectively communicate with him, in part because he loves to talk so much. So you know, you have to pick your spots of when you can get your information. And when you can, you have to know how to communicate with him in a way where he’s going to really listen. And that is an acquired skill. I don’t know anybody who’ve I met who has it natively. It’s something you learn over the course of time of interacting with him. And Kellyanne, I’ve watched her do it up close. She’s as good at communicating to the President as, you know, anybody outside of his family.
HH: All right, home stretch here. I want you to tell the story about painting the roof on your high school, because I found it to be a revelation in Let Me Finish.
CC: Well, you know, we had a tradition in our high school that the graduating class would paint the last two digits of their graduating year on the roof, and it was a high roof, and a kind of a little perilous thing to do, but it would face the football field. So when you were sitting in the home stands, that entire fall season you would see your number up on the roof. Well, we got a new principal my senior year, and I was senior class president, and we painted the roof, and he painted over it. And he called me in, and he said Chris, this is vandalism. It’s dangerous. It’s not allowed. And I need your help on this to make sure it doesn’t happen. And while I told him it was a tradition, he didn’t seem to buy it all that much. And so when he said that, I went home and talked to my dad about it, and my friends, and I said we’ve got to go paint it again. So my dad went out and bought the paints, we went up that weekend, repainted it, and this time, put first names next to the numbers. And so I got called in, of course, to the principal’s office on Monday. He said, you know, the roof’s repainted. And I said oh, is it really? I hadn’t seen that. And he said yeah, and you know, there’s names up there, and one of the names is Chris. And I said well, you know, there are a lot of Chris’ in this school. And he looked at me, and he said if I paint this over, it’s probably going to be repainted again, right? And I said I think it will, sir. And he said to me, okay, Chris, I get it.
HH: Right. A couple of random things. Guy Benson, who’s one of my mentees, told me long ago that Mary Pat is remarkable. I did not know she had raised $43 million dollars in Sandy relief.
HH: Is she all in for doing it again in 2024?
CC: Oh, I think that’s going to be, I think that would be a long discussion. She worked extraordinarily hard in ’15 and ’16. She was my most successful fundraiser. She was the person who went door to door in New Hampshire. And I think she was very, really disappointed by the process. And she came away more disappointed than I was, quite frankly. So I think if we ever decided to do this again, it would be the product of a long conversation between the two of us about why we were doing it, and what our pathway was to victory. But I can tell you this. We’ve been together 32 years, and as we detail in the book, and not always easy with two Type A personalities, but I know in my heart that if it’s something I really want, that Mary Pat loves me enough that she’ll always be with me.
HH: Revelation in the book, I believe, and I’ve said for years, Mitt Romney lost in 2012 because of Sandy, Candy and Orca, Candy intervening in the debate, Orca failing, that’s the get out the vote, and Sandy. But I’ve always rejected the hug as having anything to do with that, plus his acceptance speech in which he did not note the troops at wartime. Your acceptance speech got known as not the keynote, but the me-note. What’s up with speechwriters? Why aren’t there any good speechwriters around?
CC: I’ll tell you something. You know, it’s interesting. You know, and this is part of where Republicans get treated differently than Democrats. If, part of what I modeled the speech after, and that my speechwriter modeled the speech after, was Barack Obama’s speech in 2004, which got so much acclaim. And we wrote essentially the same kind of speech from a rhythmic perspective, and from a content perspective in terms of when the candidate was first brought up and how much time he spent for the candidate versus the country and you and the future of the party. And you remember, you know, Barack Obama spoke a lot about himself in that speech. But somehow, when Barack Obama did it in 2004, it was transforming and made him a presidential candidate, and when I did it in 2012, it was the me-note speech. This much, I’ll remind everybody of, and you’ll see a strain through the book, even though it’s a brief part of the book on the Romney campaign. The Romney campaign, with me, made two critical mistakes, I think, that affected their campaign. One, on the keynote speech, I submitted that speech to them a week beforehand. If they thought there was anything wrong with the speech, if Romney wasn’t mentioned early enough or not frequently enough, they had complete editorial license to change it. And they gave it back to me without changing a word, yet after it was done, were amongst the biggest on background people killing me over the speech.
HH: Yeah, yeah.
CC: So that’s what you…
HH: Second thing, he didn’t come to survey the damage. I know what you’re going to say.
HH: That is amazing.
CC: I invite, the President comes on a Wednesday. After he leaves on Wednesday evening, I call Mitt Romney directly, and I say Mitt, you should come here on Friday. Give it a day, and then come here on Friday, bring a check for the hurricane relief fund, I’ll take you to two of the worst sites, and I’ll take you to the emergency operations center. And you can say when I’m elected president in four days, I am ready to deal with this problem, and I will help the people of this region. And he said sounds great, Chris. I’ll have my guys get back to your guys about when we’ll do it. We got off the phone, and the next morning, his campaign folks called my chief of staff and said we’re sorry, Governor, Romney doesn’t have the time to do it.
HH: You know, I’ve got to ask Stuart Stevens about that. That’s really one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard in presidential campaigns.
HH: Finishing up on Donald. Donald is opinionated, you write. He was bombastic. He was entertaining. He talked about his businesses in your first dinner with him, with infectious enthusiasm and considerable detail. Then, he orders for you – scallops. And you’re allergic to scallops. That just kills me that he orders for you.
CC: Oh, yeah. He orders for me. He called John George, the owner-chef of the restaurant out, and he said remember the great appetizer you made for me? We’ll take two of those and that great main course you made for me. We’ll take two of those. And it wasn’t until John George walked away that I kind of realized. I said did you just order for me? And he goes, oh, yeah, you’ll love it. Well, he doesn’t know that I’m allergic to scallops, obviously, and so when that comes out, I just cut them up and move them around the plate. And he’s talking so much, he doesn’t even notice that I’m not eating.
HH: Three last questions looking forward. Can you beat Pence in 2024? The word is you always elect who you just had. And the country’s going to be exhausted by whoever, whether it’s Kamala Harris or Donald Trump. Won’t we want nice, calm, Evangelical Mike Pence?
CC: Listen, I don’t know, because none of us know all the events that are going to happen between now and 2024. Here’s what I think matters the most. What matters the most is will you be seen as a legitimate, authentic leader? And if you are, you’ve got a shot to win. Everything else is going to be up in the air and variable, as you know. Who would have ever expected Donald Trump in 2016? I know I didn’t. And I don’t thin you did, either.
HH: No, no.
CC: So you know, who knows? But what I would tell you is if I don’t think there’s a way to beat Mike Pence, then I won’t run.
HH: All right, now looking very near term. Does President Trump, if Justice Ginsberg were to retire, or if Justice Thomas were to retire, does he have to replace Ginsberg with a woman and Thomas with a minority? Is that just the way, are we locked into a Court that’s driven now by race and gender?
CC: I think so. I think so. And I think unfortunately, especially for a Republican, because the media will go after a Republican who does not replace a woman with a woman, or an African-American with an African-American, and somehow make it seem as if that choice was not based upon consideration of all the available candidates, but that somehow it means you’re anti-woman or anti-African-American. And so I think no matter what, if it was either of those folks, I think the President would have to start there and only deviate from there unless he could not find someone who satisfied him from an experience and philosophical perspective.
HH: All right, now I’ve got an ask, and then I’ve got to go off the record with you before we’re done. Here’s my ask. You talk to the President often, right?
HH: He’s getting rolled on the 355 ship Navy. You know, Mattis rolled him, now the Navy saying they’re walking…he promised that in Philadelphia. He promised that on the Ford. He’s getting rolled. He’s going to get flanked on that in the campaign. Does he even know that?
CC: He’s never mentioned it to me.
HH: Please tell him he’s getting rolled.
CC: I will.
HH: They need to give him a plan. And let me just close by saying Let Me Finish is a terrific work, Chris. Is it doing well, Governor?
CC: It is. We’re going to find out, you know, this week, whether we’ve made the New York Times bestseller list, and it’s always, for whatever reason, one of the real indications of whether you’re doing well or not. But all indications are that we’re doing real well.
HH: Well, it’s an honest, it’s a funny book. Thank you.
End of interview.