President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, believed that the “Russia thing” would end as a side effect from the firing of the national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, in the early days of the administration, according to an account in a new memoir by Chris Christie.
The incident recounted in Christie’s book, “Let Me Finish,” is among the anecdotes describing how the president and Kushner grappled with a campaign and a presidency that Christie says neither was prepared for.
Part autobiography and part firsthand accounting of a presidency, the book, which will be released Tuesday, paints Trump as a phenom who was obviously effective as a candidate — but who has relied on the wrong people and has been ill-served by many advisers, including some members of his family.
Christie, the former two-term governor of New Jersey and a longtime friend of the president, was among Trump’s challengers for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He became a key, early supporter of Trump after withdrawing from the race, and then ran Trump’s transition — until he was fired shortly after the election, reportedly at the direction of Kushner. He recently withdrew from consideration as White House chief of staff.
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Three main themes emerge in the book.
Trump is less of a cartoon figure than he is in most accounts contained in new books about the White House. But Christie describes him as averse to interpersonal conflict with people he likes, needlessly nasty to some subordinates and prone to trusting people he should not.
Kushner, whose power has grown recently, appears as a shadow campaign manager and chief of staff in the White House, often giving his father-in-law questionable and problematic advice, according to the book, on topics including Flynn; how Democrats would perceive the firing of James Comey as FBI director; his initial support for the campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; and how West Wing and key Cabinet jobs were filled.
And a number of unqualified figures attached themselves to Trump and pandered to Kushner, Christie said, particularly after he was dismissed from the transition team. One was Manafort, who bluntly told Christie in the spring of 2016 that he was succeeding over a rival campaign aide “because I’m smart enough to agree with Jared, and he is not.”
On Feb. 14, 2017, Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, had lunch scheduled with the president. It happened to be the day after Flynn — whom Christie did not back for the national security adviser role — was dismissed for lying to the vice president about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition. Kushner decided to attend.
As Kushner tucked into his “typical salad,” Christie wrote, the president said to him, “This Russia thing is all over now, because I fired Flynn.” Christie said that he started laughing, and the president asked why.
“’Sir,’ I said, ‘this Russia thing is far from over,’” Christie wrote. Trump responded: “What do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.” Kushner added, “That’s right, firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing.”
Christie, who wrote that it all sounded “naive,” recalled Kushner telling him that he was “crazy” when he said they would most likely still be discussing the Russia issue in February 2018.
The investigation into Russian meddling in the election and whether the Trump campaign was involved has been going on for more than two years, and has resulted in the indictments or guilty pleas of several former campaign officials, including Flynn and Manafort.
In an interview Sunday, Christie said that he did not believe Flynn was let go because of the Russia inquiry, but because keeping him on was “untenable” after officials said he had lied to the vice president.
“I think they thought that a result of that would be that this Russia stuff was over with, but I did not ever hear anybody say that that was the motivation,” he said.
Christie said the campaign was too disorganized and threadbare “to run a Tom Clancy operation,” and said he never saw evidence of collusion with Russian officials. But he argued that people like Flynn never should have been hired in the first place.
“Flynn was a train wreck from beginning to end,” Christie said in the book, recounting that during the one early debate session that Flynn was invited to, he suggested that Trump reverse himself and support abortion rights, because it would take away an issue from Hillary Clinton.
Christie was similarly wary about Jeff Sessions serving as attorney general, suggesting he mishandled his recusal from the Russia inquiry. He also took aim at Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, saying he manufactured scenes about Christie in books and news media accounts. Repeatedly, Christie suggested that people around Trump, such as Bannon, promoted themselves at the president’s expense.
Christie lifted the curtain on some of the most explosive moments of the campaign, including when Trump was presented with the audio of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape for the first time. He had initially insisted the language used was not something he would say. When he heard the tape, he acknowledged, “It’s me.” Christie said it was one of the few times he had seen Trump personally embarrassed.
He described frantically writing a statement with Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, to give to the candidate to end days of controversy after Trump said a judge was biased against him because of his Mexican-American heritage.
Christie detailed some of the bizarre back and forths he had with Trump or his aides about various jobs, including the candidate appearing to toy with both him and Mike Pence about who would be his running mate.
He described Trump as clearly torn when his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was fired. They watched together as Lewandowski went on CNN to defend Trump after his dismissal, and Trump said they should call him together.
“To me, this all felt a little bizarre,” Christie wrote. “”Didn’t we just fire him?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ Trump answered. ‘But we’ve got to call and tell him he did a great job.’”
Christie recounted introducing Trump to Pence, at a meeting where Pence said a short prayer. “Does he do that all the time?” Trump asked Christie later. When Christie replied yes, Trump responded, “Interesting.”
He recalled the first time he met Trump, in May 2002, at a restaurant where Trump insisted on ordering for him. When dinner ended, a fan who had waited outside for an hour asked Trump to take a photograph with her. Her camera jammed repeatedly.
Impatient, Trump looked at the woman and said, “Sweetheart, let’s do this the next time we get together.” He disappeared into a black limousine.
But Christie said there was another side to the president, describing conversations with Trump where he was concerned for his children. “What’s going to happen to them if I’m not there?” Trump wondered about his adult children if he became president.
“I think people draw him in very, very stark colors, and I don’t think that that’s who he is,” Christie said in the interview. “I think there’s a lot more nuance to it.”
Repeatedly, however, the story returns to Kushner, whom Christie recalled watching, silently, as Kushner denounced Christie to Trump in a meeting and urged him to exclude Christie from the transition effort.
“He tried to destroy my father,” Kushner said, according to Christie, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Kushner’s father, Charles, on tax evasion and other charges. Trump did not side with his son-in-law.
When Kushner lost the battle, he told Christie that they should let bygones be bygones and work together, Christie wrote. But time and again, he said, he heard from other officials that Kushner was working against him.
On election night, Kushner asked Christie’s son to take a picture of him and the governor, a moment he said he could never have imagined years earlier, according to the book. Christie was dismissed from the transition three days later.