Former New Jersey governor and Trump ally Chris Christie warned the president in 2017 that the “Russia thing” was far from over, despite Trump’s insistence to the contrary, according to a newly released cache of documents from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.
The documents, released by the Justice Department on Monday in response to a lawsuit by BuzzFeed News and CNN, included almost 300 pages of witness memoranda and notes from the FBI’s interviews with key players in the Mueller probe. The documents included summaries of the bureau’s interviews with Christie, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and former White Hosue communications director Hope Hicks, among others.
According to the memos, Christie told the FBI that he’d discussed the Mueller investigation with Trump over lunch on Valentine’s Day in 2017.
“Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump allegedly told Christie, referring to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s removal from office.
Flynn resigned on Feb. 13, 2017, after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Christie told investigators that he “laughed” at Trump’s suggestion that the Russia problem was behind them.
“No way,” he recalled telling the president. “We’ll be here on Valentine’s Day 2018 talking about this.”
Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said he went on to urge Trump to keep his head down as the probe into Russian interference ramped up.
Per the memos:
[Christie said] he had been through both sides of investigations and there was no way to make it shorter, but there were a lot of ways to make it longer. Trump asked Christie what he meant, and Christie told him not to talk about the investigation and to keep his mouth shut even though it would be frustrating at times.
Christie added that “if you get near a guy like Flynn, he’s like gum on the bottom of your shoe, and you can’t get rid of him.”
Later during that same Valentine’s Day lunch, Trump allegedly asked Christie to speak with then-FBI Director James Comey ― who, at the time, was leading the bureau’s probe into Russian election interference ― and to tell him that Trump “really like[s] him.”
Christie told the FBI that he never made the call, saying he thought the request was “nonsensical.”
“Christie said it would have been uncomfortable to pass on that message” to Comey, the FBI summary of the interview said.
Comey was fired three months later.
During a Q&A session last month at his alma mater, the University of Delaware, Christie called Mueller an “American patriot” and praised the special counsel’s final report as “very thorough and fair” given “the complicated set of facts.”
Separately, he said he believed Trump would be impeached by the House of Representatives over his dealings with Ukraine but would not be removed from office by the Republican-led Senate.
“I have a very, what I call, practical view of this. He will be impeached. It’s just a matter of time. The Democrats didn’t start this to not finish it,” Christie said, according to NPR. “This is a political judgment, not a factual judgment. They will impeach him, and then it will go to the Senate, and the Senate will not remove him.”
“Everyone’s got their uniform on,’’ Christie continued, referring to partisanship in Washington. “And 20 Republicans are not taking their red jersey off and putting a blue jersey on between now and January. And that’s what it’s going to take, and I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
The Mueller memos made public this week were part of a second release of FBI interview notes from the special counsel investigation. The Justice Department released the first installment of FBI interview summaries last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and lawsuit from BuzzFeed and CNN.
BuzzFeed said Monday that the interview summaries are “some of the most important and highly sought-after documents from Mueller’s investigation.”
Other highlights from the more recent document release include Rosenstein’s admission to the FBI that he had been “angry, ashamed, horrified and embarrassed” at how the White House handled Comey’s firing, and Hicks' claim that Trump was “angry, surprised, and frustrated” when Mueller was appointed as special counsel.
See the full cache of documents here.