NEWARK — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie remained staunchly loyal to President Donald Trump this week, defending the president’s right to reveal secrets to Russian diplomats and his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.
But the Republican governor, a long-time friend and ally of the president, grew frustrated at times during an unrelated press conference on Wednesday — particularly when questioned about reports Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation into one of his aides.
Christie dismissed several bombshell reports this week as mere “speculation” and said it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the issues, particularly as a former federal prosecutor.
He did say any comparison between Trump’s decision to reveal code-word intelligence to the Russians and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server were invalid.
“There’s no debate about the fact that the president of the United States has the right to do that,” Christie said. “There’s significant debate about whether the secretary of state has the right to do that. They’re two very different things.”
But Christie refused three times to answer questions about reports Trump asked Comey to end an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a meeting the director documented in a memo, the details of which were first reported by The New York Times.
“I’m not going to comment on leaked materials that no one who either wrote the memo or was in the meeting has yet verified,” Christie said. “If we get to a later stage, then I’ll have something to say about it. But there’s nothing to say right now.”
The governor, who has been holding regular question-and-answer sessions with reporters after several months in which he refused to hold any press conferences, seemed angered at times to be repeatedly asked about the meeting between Comey and Trump.
“Do you think it’s appropriate for a president to ask his or her FBI director to end an investigation?” a reporter asked at one point during the 30-minute press conference.
“Next question,” Christie said. “I don’t answer hypotheticals.”
Asked a few minutes later whether “asking to end an investigation” qualified as “obstruction of justice,” the governor said he wouldn’t answer any more questions about Trump.
“OK, I have humored you for long enough,” Christie said sharply. “I am not going to get into this, as I’ve said to you many times. If there are any other non-Trump questions, I am happy to take them. But I’m not going to get into speculation.”
He added, however, that he was the only person in the room to prosecute obstruction of justice cases.
“They’re very difficult cases to prove and you have to have very significant evidence of the state of mind of the person,” Christie said. “So I’d ask everybody to take a deep breath before everybody jumps to conclusions. I used to say that in my office when I ran the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and I give it to you as free advice now, worth what you’re paying for it.”
The governor, who was among the first establishment Republicans to endorse Trump after dropping his own president bid last year, talks regularly with the president and has been chosen to chair a White House commission focused on ending drug addiction.
Christie has also known Comey for 15 years, he said, and had dealings with the veteran FBI agent during his time as U.S. attorney in New Jersey. He said he has “great respect for Jim Comey” and said it would be up to him whether he wants to speak out publicly about what transpired.
The governor said he would not consider taking on the job of FBI director. “I’m finishing out my term,” he said.