Inside Chris Christie’s fall from grace – Politico
Chris Christie, once one of the Republican Party’s brightest stars, was virtually assured a position in a Donald Trump administration. As one of the first big-name politicians to endorse the Manhattan billionaire, the New Jersey governor had earned Trump’s gratitude.
Or so it seemed.
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Instead, just a few months after being denied the VP slot, Christie suffered another public humiliation – he was stripped of his leadership of Trump’s presidential transition. In a phone call last week, the president-elect told Christie that he had become a political liability.
Trump and his top aides were most concerned about two issues, according to nearly a dozen people briefed on the process: Christie’s mismanagement of the transition, and the lingering political fallout of the Bridgegate scandal.
In their phone call, which was relayed by three sources, Trump expressed his worry about the recent conviction of two of the governor’s former top aides, who had accused him of knowing more about the shutdown of the George Washington Bridge than he let on. Was more damaging information to come, Trump wondered?
After that discussion, the axe fell swiftly on Christie and his inner circle.
On Friday, Nov. 11, the transition team announced that Vice President-elect Mike Pence would be taking over Christie’s duties. A purge of Christie loyalists soon followed, along with a promise to cleanse the transition of lobbyists the governor had brought in to steer the new administration.
The switchover came with little warning. Richard Bagger, a former chief of staff to the New Jersey governor who had been the transition team’s executive director, found himself without access to the Trump offices where he’d been working, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Rick Dearborn, a top aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions, was brought in to replace him.
Spokespersons for Trump and Christie declined to comment. Bagger didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In the days following the election, Trump expressed deep frustration about how Christie was handling the transition. In particular, he vented about how the governor had loaded up the team with lobbyists, the very class of people Trump had campaigned against, with his calls to “drain the swamp” in Washington. The president-elect also noticed that Christie had stocked his team with old New Jersey friends and allies.
There were other issues. Once the dust settled from their surprise win, the Trump team noticed that Christie had done little to vet potential administration picks or to dig into potential conflicts of interests. With Democrats eager to pounce on any early mistake, it was an oversight they simply couldn’t afford.
By Thursday of last week, Trump was telling aides that he was ready to make a change.
To some degree, Christie’s problems weren’t entirely of his making. In Trump, he was dealing with a political newcomer who didn’t understand the importance of laying the groundwork for a future administration. After being tapped to head the transition this summer, the governor met with Trump. Why, the candidate wanted to know, did he have to spend time and resources on a transition when he hadn’t yet won the election?
But Christie fumbled, failing to understand the family-driven dynamic of the Trump presidential bid. Early on, Paul Manafort, Trump’s then-campaign chairman, urged the governor to get Trump’s children and his influential son-in-law, Jared Kushner, invested in the hires he was making. It was advice Christie didn’t seem to take.