AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're going to look back now to February 2016. Chris Christie, then the governor of New Jersey, had just dropped out of the race for president. It was time to make a decision. Who should he endorse? Well, that February 26, Christie turned up unannounced at a campaign press conference in Fort Worth, Texas, and stunned reporters by saying this.
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CHRIS CHRISTIE: I am proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States.
CORNISH: Six weeks later, Christie was announced as the leader of candidate Trump's transition team. And we're going to let our co-host Mary Louise Kelly pick up the story from here.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: The story is that through the summer and fall of 2016, Christie crisscrossed the country with Trump, led his debate prep, sat in on classified briefings, all of which gave Christie a front-row seat on the Trump campaign, all of which he writes about in his new memoir, "Let Me Finish."
Governor Christie, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
CHRISTIE: Thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to speaking to you.
KELLY: And we are looking forward to speaking with you. So it is hard to think of a campaign that continues to cast quite such a long shadow two years into a presidency, but questions about Russia, as you know, continue to dog and define Trump's presidency. So start there. You sat in the meetings. You were in Trump Tower all the time in 2016. Was there collusion?
CHRISTIE: Listen; I don't think there was. I never saw any evidence of it. And I don't think the campaign was organized enough to collude.
KELLY: You didn't see evidence of collusion, and you think they were too disorganized to collude.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I think this group was still trying to hire field reps in Pennsylvania in August. I hardly think that they were organized enough to put together a Tom Clancy-type operation with Russia.
KELLY: I mean, here's what I keep wrestling with with the collusion question. You say it's far-fetched. However, you and I are sitting here speaking just a few days after the arrest of Roger Stone, the sixth of the president's advisers to be charged in the Russia investigation - a lot of that to do with false statements to the FBI...
KELLY: ...To investigators. If there was nothing to cover up, why does everybody keep lying to the FBI and other investigators?
CHRISTIE: Well, in my experience as U.S. attorney for seven years in New Jersey, dumb people and bad people lie all the time even when they don't have to. I'm not surprised that they're lying. I don't think you can draw the conclusion that, well, if they're lying, they must be lying about something. I have great faith and confidence in Bob Mueller. I worked with them when I was U.S. attorney and he was director of the FBI. And I think he's run this investigation with great integrity, and I have confidence that Bob Mueller will do it the right way.
KELLY: Stay with your point about the kind of people who the president surrounded himself with during the campaign, during the transition and now in his presidency. You called them grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons. What does it say that this is the type people who Donald Trump brings into his inner circle?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think that there's been a lot of really bad personnel choices - Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Omarosa Manigault and some of the other folks that he brought into the White House - that had no business being in the White House. And I think, you know, it's difficult for someone who has run a family business beforehand with no shareholders and no board of directors to understand how important each and every one of those personnel decisions are.
KELLY: Your official role, as we mentioned, was leading the transition. You assembled 30 binders full of names of people to be considered for the top jobs, drafts of executive orders - 30 binders which you say got thrown in a dumpster right after the election.
KELLY: Literally in a dumpster.
KELLY: How do you know that? Did you see it?
CHRISTIE: I was told.
KELLY: Like, where? Out behind Trump Tower or...
CHRISTIE: No, in Washington, D.C., they made a ceremonial tossing out of that information. And by they, I mean Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.
CHRISTIE: Well, I mean, listen; a decision was made, and I was told by Steve Bannon, as I write in the book, to let me go two days after the election and that that instruction was given to him by Jared Kushner. Now, I think, to let me go is one thing. To get rid of the work of 140 people that I led for six months was monumentally stupid. And I think that the administration has paid a price for that, and the country has paid a price for that act of arrogance and that act of selfishness because they wanted to now be in charge of what was going to happen.
KELLY: Does the president not bear some responsibility here, though? He could get those binders fished out of a dumpster if he had wanted to follow an orderly by-the-book or by-the-binder transition plan.
CHRISTIE: Listen; he's accountable for everything that happened. Now, he's not responsible for that decision, and I know for a fact he didn't make that decision. They told him we're going to fix the transition. There's problems here. We'll take care of it. And given everything else that he had going on at that time, I don't know that it was his responsibility to delve into exactly what happened. But what I will tell you is that he's paid the price for it. The well-researched, well-crafted executive orders that we had viewed by a panel of lawyers, you would've been much better off working off those executive orders rather than ones that were written by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller on the back of an envelope in some office of the White House.
KELLY: On Jared Kushner, there's a long history between you and his family, Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law, history going back to your time as a prosecutor in New Jersey. You prosecuted the case against Jared Kushner's dad for tax evasion and witness tampering, among other charges.
KELLY: Charles Kushner was convicted. He went to prison, and you say the son held a grudge. How did that manifest when you two were working together?
CHRISTIE: (Laughter) Well, the way it manifested itself, if you read the book - and there's entire chapter called "Jared's Meltdown" where when Donald Trump brought me in to ask me to be chairman of the transition, Jared came into the meeting uninvited and began to make the argument as to why that decision should be held in abeyance because I had been, in his words, unfair to his father and therefore untrustworthy. And ultimately, Donald said, Jared, Chris was doing his job. You're trying to get in the way of this, but I've made my decision. And Chris is going to be in charge of the transition.
KELLY: The president had your back in that first conversation.
CHRISTIE: And a number after that.
KELLY: Yeah, but on the getting fired from the transition, I'll just ask it bluntly - did he sell you out? I mean, he could've blocked that.
CHRISTIE: Well, listen; I think he - I think what happened was he gave in to the - what was described to me by Steve Bannon, who said - the kid is what he referred to Jared as.
KELLY: This was Bannon's nickname for Jared Kushner.
CHRISTIE: Yup. The kid has been taking an ax to your head with the boss ever since I got here. So I think that ultimately the president just decided that he could end the battering that he was taking at the hands of his son-in-law.
KELLY: Just to follow on that, there have been reports of late that Jared Kushner is basically kind of de facto operating as White House chief of staff. Do you have any insight into whether that's true?
CHRISTIE: I don't know if it's true, but let me say this - there is simply no one more influential in the White House on the president than Jared Kushner.
KELLY: That's who he listens to.
CHRISTIE: It's not the only person he listens to, but I don't think anyone has more influence than Jared has.
KELLY: Do you still talk to the president?
CHRISTIE: All the time.
KELLY: What kind of advice do you give him?
CHRISTIE: Well, my advice I give is between me and the president, Mary Louise. But what I tell him, for instance, let's say, about the most recent incident regarding a shutdown of the federal government - with a Democratic legislature my entire time as governor of New Jersey, and if you're going to do something confrontational with your legislative body, you better have a plan for a way in and for a way out in case things don't go well politically. And I think he was convinced by others that they were going to be able to handle this situation for him and that he would be able to get them to give in. We learned that that's not the way it worked. And I think he learned a big lesson in the last 35 days. And we're going to see how the next 21 days get handled as a result.
KELLY: Chris Christie - the book is "Let Me Finish: Trump, The Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey And The Power Of In-Your-Face Politics." Governor, thank you.
CHRISTIE: Thank you, Mary Louise.
CORNISH: We've reached out to Jared Kushner for a response, and we're still waiting to hear back.
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