Early in Chris Christie’s gubernatorial tenure in New Jersey, he had dinner with then-real estate magnate Donald Trump at the swank Jean-Georges restaurant in New York City.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten himself came out and greeted Trump and his guest. Trump swiftly ordered for both, surprising Christie, who has dietary restrictions.
The first course was scallops, but Christie is allergic to them. So he just poked around with his fork while Trump munched away, oblivious to his fellow diner.
Then the entree came. It was lamb, which Christie vehemently despises. Trump continued eating and talking but suddenly stopped and asked why his companion wasn’t eating the sumptuous meal.
Wasn’t it cooked right? Didn’t it taste OK?
“I hate lamb,’’ Christie recalls responding.
“Then why did you order it?’’ Trump replied.
Christie got a big laugh from that anecdote Wednesday night during a 90-minute, question-and-answer session at his alma mater, the University of Delaware.
The session included serious, somber, and yes, humorous reflections by Christie on Trump, his presidency, and the divisive state of American politics today.
Christie was U.S. attorney for New Jersey before serving as the state’s governor from 2010 to 2018. He was one of several contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination whom Trump vanquished on his way to the Oval Office.
Once Trump was the presumptive nominee, he named Christie to head his transition team. But a few days after being elected, Trump dumped him from that role.
Wednesday night, Christie was not asked about that series of events, or about the “Bridgegate” scandal that overshadowed his time as governor. He would not agree to be interviewed before or after the event.
Though he is not part of the Trump administration, Christie said he is a trusted confidant of the president who can tell him what he really thinks without repercussions.
‘Everyone’s got their uniform on’ for impeachment
Christie discussed a wide range of political topics, including the defeat of a Republican incumbent governor in Kentucky this week, which he called a “local” decision that doesn’t reflect the national political climate or signify that Republicans will be in trouble in the 2020 elections.
He didn’t mince words when asked about what he called the inevitable impeachment of Trump over allegations that he tied military aid to Ukraine to a request for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Christie told the audience that while Democrats seem united about removing Trump from office, their gambit will fail.
“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. “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.”
Democrats control the House and can impeach Trump with a simple majority, but conviction in a Senate trial requires a two-thirds majority of that body.
Republicans hold 53 of the 100 Senate seats. So even if the 45 Democrats and two independents voted to remove Trump from office, a whopping 20 Republicans would have to join them to reach the 67 votes required for conviction.
“Everyone’s got their uniform on,’’ Christie said of partisan 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.”
Christie also predicted that even if the impossible happens and Trump is removed from office, he would defy Congress and seek re-election and win the nomination anyway.
Should Trump be removed, however, the Senate could also vote separately to bar him from holding any other federal office again.
Christie said Trump is “99%’’ the same in private as on television and won’t be changing.
“Not a width’s worth of difference, none,’’ he said.
Trump was his usual rambunctious and irreverent self when the two dined last month in the White House, Christie said.
Robert Mueller ‘an American patriot’
While Christie was mostly affable and congenial Wednesday, he took offense and showed his strident side when asked about Robert Mueller’s “mental decline.”
Former FBI chief Mueller was the special prosecutor in the investigation of Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian interference but faltered at times during a congressional hearing.
“He is an American patriot,’’ Christie said of Mueller, who headed the FBI during part of Christie’s tenure as New Jersey’s chief federal law enforcement officer. “The implication in the question is offensive to me, really offensive. And it’s part of what is going on with our politics today.
“Whoever wrote that question doesn’t agree with Bob Mueller and doesn’t think he did a great job when he gave his testimony,” Christie said. “He didn’t do a great job. It wasn’t his best day, but we are going to conclude from that that he is in mental decline? Who is the physician in this audience who diagnosed that? It’s outrageous.”
He called the Mueller report “very thorough and fair” given “the complicated set of facts.”
Christie, 57, said he hasn’t decided whether to seek the presidency again in 2024 but stressed that it’s the only political office he would ever seek again.
“There’s nothing else I want to run for. I couldn’t imagine myself in the United States Senate. I’d rather commit suicide than be in the United States Senate, when the greatest part of your day is, ‘Oh my bill just got marked up in the subcommittee,’” he said, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
“Once you’ve been a governor, you’re like, ‘Come on man, I am supposed to get things done.’ I have an executive mentality. I want to have a task. I want to figure out how to accomplish the task, and I want to accomplish it, and I want to check it off and go to the next one.”