Election 2020

Christie: Trump was Counseled About Risks of Hiring Family Members in West Wing

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks with Donald Trump during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he was among those who advised President Trump to be careful with hiring family members because of the future effects it could have on the Trump clan.

Last week, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner’s security clearance was downgraded along with dozens of other administration aides operating on interim clearances from top secret/sensitive compartmented information to secret. At the Gridiron Dinner this weekend, Trump poked fun at his son-in-law’s background check problems: “You know, we’re late tonight because Jared could not get through the security,” Trump quipped.

Christie told ABC this morning that the case of former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who had not received a security clearance and resigned from the West Wing when domestic violence allegations surfaced, “was not handled correctly from the beginning; the fact that you had all these people on interim clearances has created a lot of these problems.”

Amid questions of potential conflicts between Kushner’s family businesses and his government duties — like a report that Kushner pushed for the blockade of Qatar weeks after the country’s finance minister turned down a request from Kushner’s father to invest in their distressed Fifth Avenue building — and the clearance downgrade, Christie was asked if Trump’s son-in-law should step down.

“The situation is made much worse by the fact that we have family members in the White House. It makes it much more difficult,” Christie replied. “And there were many of us who counseled the president — and not just about Jared, but about any other members of his family having official positions. Not because they weren’t competent or qualified or that the president didn’t trust them, but because when circumstances come up that the president couldn’t have been aware of — and in a normal situation, you might terminate a staff member for that reason.”

“Becomes a lot more difficult if you’re going to be sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with that person,” he added. “And so for Jared and for Ivanka and for all the other members of the family who were involved in one way or the other, I think everybody’s got to focus on what’s best for the president. When I was chairman of the transition, when I was endorsing him and working to try to get him elected, my focus all the time was what’s the best thing for the candidate and then for the president-elect. And I think everybody on the staff here has got to get back to that, from — from General Kelly right on down.”

Christie slammed White House staff for “all the infighting and all the leaking,” charging that “they’re ill-serving this president.”

“And people talk about the drama he creates. I would suggest he only creates half the drama that goes on in the White House and the other half is caused by staff who are killing each other,” he said.

Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus acknowledged “it does make it more complicated with family.”

“But I do think that Jared and Ivanka over the course to the last six to eight months have really found, I think, a place for them that fits in nicely with their portfolio,” Priebus added. “I think initially it was a little bit more complicated, because everyone kind of had access and there was a little bit less of lines of authorities in place. But I think over time they’ve found a much better place.”

Christie added Ivanka Trump “did a fabulous job on the child care tax credit as part of the tax reform discussions, but that’s not the point — the point is now we’re talking about stuff that happened 14, 15, 16, 18 months ago.”

“This happens all the time in administrations, and you know that. But what makes it more complicated this involves family,” he said. “And I feel badly for the president in this regard, because now you’re sitting across from a family member, from a son-in-law, from a daughter, and have to have hard political conversations with them, which are never easy.”