Mueller Report: Christie tried to stop Trump from thwarting investigation
Former Gov. Chris Christie cautioned President Donald Trump against firing the special counsel investigating his administration and warned the president after he fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that he risked stretching out the investigation.
That was revealed Thursday in the public version of the long-awaited report from special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel's appointment in May 2017. Those efforts "were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests," Mueller wrote.
After nearly two years, the two-volume, 448-page redacted report made for riveting reading.
In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel's appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: "Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f---ed."
The report points to Christie's recollections as "evidence" showing "that the President was not just seeking an examination of whether conflicts existed but instead was looking to use asserted conflicts as a way to terminate the Special Counsel."
Christie has long considered Trump a close friend and served on the president's transition team.
Below are excerpts from the Mueller Report that reference Christie.
On February 14, 2017, the day after Flynn's resignation, the President had lunch at the White House with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. According to Christie, at one point during the lunch the President said, "Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over." Christie laughed and responded, "No way." He said, "this Russia thing is far from over" and "[w]e'll be here on Valentine's Day 2018 talking about this." The President said, "[w]hat do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It's over." Christie recalled responding that based on his experience both as a prosecutor and as someone who had been investigated, firing Flynn would not end the investigation. Christie said there was no way to
make an investigation shorter, but a lot of ways to make it longer. The President asked Christie what he meant, and Christie told the President not to talk about the investigation even if he was frustrated at times. Christie also told the President that he would never be able to get rid of Flynn, "like gum on the bottom of your shoe."
Towards the end of the lunch, the President brought up Comey and asked if Christie was still friendly with him. Christie said he was. The President told Christie to call Comey and tell him that the President "really like[s] him. Tell him he's part of the team." At the end of the lunch, the President repeated his request that Christie reach out to Comey. Christie had no intention of complying with the President 's request that he contact Comey. He thought the President's request was "nonsensical" and Christie did not want to put Comey in the position of having to receive such a phone call. Christie thought it would have been uncomfortable to pass on that message.
Evidence does establish that the President connected the Flynn investigation to the FBI's broader Russia investigation and that he believed, as he told Christie, that terminating Flynn would end "the whole Russia thing." Flynn's firing occurred at a time when the media and Congress were raising questions about Russia's interference in the election and whether members of the President's campaign had colluded with Russia. Multiple witnesses recalled that the President viewed the Russia investigations as a challenge to the legitimacy of his election. The President paid careful attention to negative coverage of Flynn and reacted with annoyance and anger when the story broke disclosing that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Just hours before meeting one-on-one with Comey, the President told Christie that firing Flynn would put an end to the Russia inquiries. And after Christie pushed back, telling the President that firing Flynn would not end the Russia investigation, the President asked Christie to reach out to Comey and convey that the President liked him and he was part of "the team." That afternoon, the President cleared the room and asked Comey to "let Flynn go."
The way in which the President communicated the request to Comey also is relevant to understanding the President's intent. When the President first learned about the FBI investigation into Flynn, he told McGahn, Bannon, and Priebus not to discuss the matter with anyone else in the White House. The next day, the President invited Comey for a one-on-one dinner against the advice of an aide who recommended that other White House officials also attend. At the dinner, the President asked Comey for "loyalty" and, at a different point in the conversation, mentioned that Flynn had judgment issues. When the President met with Comey the day after Flynn's termination - shortly after being told by Christie that firing Flynn would not end the Russia investigation-the President cleared the room, even excluding the Attorney General, so that he could again speak to Comey alone. The President's decision to meet one-on-one with Comey contravened the advice of the White House Counsel that the President should not communicate directly with the Department of Justice to avoid any appearance of interfering in law enforcement activities. And the President later denied that he cleared the room and asked Comey to "let Flynn go"- a denial that would have been unnecessary if he believed his request was a proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
Later that evening, the President told his communications team he was unhappy with the press coverage of Comey's termination and ordered them to go out and defend him. The President also called Chris Christie and, according to Christie, said he was getting "killed" in the press over Comey's termination. The President asked what he should do. Christie asked, "Did you fire [Comey] because of what Rod wrote in the memo?", and the President responded, "Yes." Christie said that the President should "get Rod out there " and have him defend the decision. The President told Christie that this was a "good idea" and said he was going to call Rosenstein right away.
Around the same time, Chris Christie recalled a telephone call with the President in which the President asked what Christie thought about the President firing the Special Counsel. Christie advised against doing so because there was no substantive basis for the President to fire the Special Counsel, and because the President would lose support from Republicans in Congress if he did so.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.