tv Firing Line With Margaret Hoover PBS March 15, 2019 11:30pm-12:01am PDT
>> he's the republican politician booted from trump's team, looking for a comeback, this week on "firing line." >> you see, everybody, i want the people at home to think about this. >> new jersey governor chris christie ran for president... >> you know, when you're sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that. >> ...but his campaign went nowhere. >> you're both successful people. congratulations. you know who's not successful? the middle class in this country. >> he became the first big-name republican to endorse donald trump... >> ...for the next president of the united states. >> ...landing a job running trump's transition until christie was fired days after the election. his exit, christie says, left the president surrounded by riffraff. >> steve really was a snake. >> i knew mike flynn was trouble from the first day i met him. jared kushner was exacting a plot of revenge against me. >> but could christie really have changed the course
of history if he had stayed on? what does chris christie say now? >> "firing line with margaret hoover" is made possible by... corporate funding is provided by... >> governor christie, welcome to "firing line." >> happy to be here, margaret. >> thank you for being here. you have been a federal prosecutor, a governor, a republican presidential candidate, and distinguished yourself by being the first really prominent elected official to endorse donald trump and his campaign. >> yep. >> and, also, were the first prominent republican to be dismissed from his campaign as soon as he was elected. >> [ chuckles ] yes, i was. >> is there ever a moment
where you regret throwing in early for president trump? >> no. >> because, remember, nobody thought he was gonna win. >> no, i thought he was gonna win, and that was -- >> no, not then. >> i did. >> no. >> i did. i thought he was gonna win the nomination. i mean, i really did. >> but it was february 26th of 2016. >> yeah. >> ted cruz is in the race. marco rubio is in the race. now, i know you didn't have love for them. >> no, no. it's not about not having love for them -- it's about -- i'm a politician. i understand politics. i wanted to make sure hillary clinton was not gonna be president of the united states. and i had concluded in my own mind that i really believed trump was gonna win this nomination and none of the other guys on that stage -- or women -- could win it. and so i had a -- i felt like, in my personal relationship with him, i had an obligation to try to make him a better candidate and potentially a better president, 'cause i didn't want hillary to be the president. >> within a week of that endorsement, he stood up and had a press conference. the memes of your face in the background was about a dead man walking. >> well, what it was, was somebody who didn't want to be standing up there.
i mean, like, that story of that -- of that video was i was to introduce him and leave the stage. but he said, "stay." so people thought, like, that looked like a hostage video or whatever. all i was thinking was, "i don't want to be standing here, 'cause i know it can't look good." >> so, in your role in advising him in the campaign, you ended up running the transition process. >> yep. >> and in running the transition process, you put together what would have been the first 30 binders' worth of very precise instructions about what would happen in the first days of a transition to the presidency, from cabinet selections to second-tier cabinet selections to executive orders, all of which was, as you write, thrown in the garbage. i'd like us to listen to your reflections of what happened.
what happened next? >> a chaotic beginning to the trump presidency, which underachieved what it could have achieved, a president who was being advised by -- at least, in my view -- a group of people who were not qualified and ready to give him the advice he needed. and so, you had a novice president who's being advised by novice or dishonest advisers. what makes me sad about all of it was the lost opportunity. and now, with the democrats controlling the house, we may not have that opportunity again for a long time. >> you write about, in the book, if they had followed your guidance and your instructions -- this alternative history -- it really would have led to a different presidency. i mean, do you really believe, if they had followed your guidance, the first six months of the trump presidency would have been a different history in the american story?
>> i do -- not entirely, because the president still, you know, has enormous influence over the presidency. i think 75% of the things would have been different because -- you know the old saying -- garbage in, garbage out, right? and so, we were not putting good things in front of the president for him to consider to even give him the chance to make better decisions. and so, that's the things -- i do think it would have been entirely different. mike flynn wouldn't have been the national security advisor. steve bannon wouldn't have been in the white house. i mean... >> that's if he listened to your recommendation, but those people were all part of his inner circle during the campaign, and those people who were in the campaign... >> and, by the way, so was i. >> ...normally transition over. >> and so was i. and in the end, margaret, he didn't have those things put in front of him to meet with the people we were recommending. all things that he said during the campaign -- we said, "okay, you want to achieve this? here's how you do it. here's who you have to consult. here are the pros. here are the cons. let's go." and i didn't expect the president to read it, but the people who were involved would have done it. >> did you try to convince president trump not to hire retired general michael flynn
as national security advisor, or did you lose the chance to do that because you'd been fired? >> no, i was doing that from june forward... >> yes. >> ...when i first went into national security briefings with the then-candidate and mike flynn. we were the three people... >> right. >> ...who got those security briefings, and i knew from those briefings that flynn was a train wreck. and i told the candidate that from that moment, and i really believe it was one of the things that contributed to my firing. >> but because he was behind flynn, and so he didn't listen to you? >> yeah, he didn't listen to me, and the family was very much behind flynn. >> why? >> i don't know. >> really? even to this day, you don't -- you can't speculate? >> i don't know how they couldn't see the things that i could see, which was he was so ill-tempered that being in the white house and being the guy who's gonna synthesize state department, defense department, and national intelligence information into digestible form for the president? this guy was the most ill-suited person i've ever seen to do that. and by the time i got to the day after the election, which was the last time, margaret, i said to the president, "whatever you do,
don't pick mike flynn as national security advisor." and he said to me, "you just don't like him." and i said, "you're right -- i don't like him. i don't like him 'cause he's gonna get you in trouble." >> here's what you say in the book. you say what you put together in those 30 binders was "a day-by-day, week-by-week compendium for how the trump administration should get right to work, all drawn up from the candidate's positions and promises on the campaign trail." >> yep. >> on the campaign trail, donald trump promised to build a wall... >> right. >> ...and have mexico pay for it. he promised a total and complete ban on all muslims. he had promised to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate hillary clinton. >> right. >> he promised to bring back waterboarding and torture. >> right. >> so, how did your 30 binders account for those promises? >> we didn't account for most of those because we didn't think that we could come up with a legal rationale for doing them. >> many of the criticisms of the president were that he didn't do the things he promised first, right? he -- his first legislative attempt was a major botch, when he failed at being able to repeal obamacare. >> what we suggested was that tax cuts go first,
infrastructure goes second, obamacare goes third. >> the wall was in infrastructure? >> the wall was in infrastructure. and so, we suggested that you do it in that order. we thought, one, that tax cuts was the single most important thing to get the economy going and get people believing again in the fact that the country can have 3% or 4% growth. then, you need to do infrastructure. we believed you needed to do that because it could be a bipartisan thing where you could get the wall done. if you were gonna do a huge highway and bridge and tunnel bill, then you could make a deal to get the wall put in there. then, third, we said obamacare because we thought that would be the hardest one. >> if you were chief of staff right now, how would all this be different? >> if i were it right now? >> yeah. >> you know, it would only be different if the president wanted it to be different. and i -- >> you're saying if he were different, if he changed? >> well, not if he changed, but if he delegated differently, you know? and i think that part of what has happened is that he's been impatient, and rightfully so, because some of the people
did not serve him well and results were going badly. when paul ryan tells you you have to do obamacare first and reince priebus tells you that, yeah, we'll get the votes for it, and then it doesn't happen, you begin to -- at least, what he did was draw back and say, "okay, i'll do these things myself." >> one of the illustrations that really speaks loudly in the book to me, at least, when i read it was the way you describe trump's response to you, that he listens to you. why do you think he listens to you? or do you think he listens to you? >> i do -- not all the time, but i think he respects me. partly, it's that we've been friends, so i don't think he questions my motives nearly as much as he questions other people's. >> so, what happened to then hiring the best people? >> so, we had all these people going to "be interviewed" for positions, and the same four people were in those interviews all the time -- reince priebus, jared kushner, steve bannon, and the president-elect. >> who chose that those three would be in the room? >> well, the president did, and the president's responsible for that. but my point to you on the bigger issue was those people should've said to the president, "no, thank you.
i don't need to be in the room for this," or, "i'll step out for this while i'm attending to all the stuff we threw in the garbage that needs to be done. >> you have two daughters. >> i do. >> what did you tell your two daughters after the "access hollywood" tapes came out? >> well, let's see. my youngest daughter, bridget, was 12, so we didn't really talk about it. my older daughter, who was 19 -- we did talk about it. and what i said to her was that that's the kind of stuff that's just inexcusable for any man to do -- any way to talk about women or to -- or, potentially, to put those words into action. and i said, "i'm not gonna make any excuses for him." i said, you know, "it's just the wrong thing to do. your father would never do anything like that, and you should never be with someone who would do something like that." >> so, one thing in the book surprised me that doesn't come through is you don't pass any judgment on the candidate for those words or many of the things that the chris christie i know
would have had a hard time with. >> i did have a hard time with it, and that's -- and he asked me to go on the sunday morning shows for him that sunday, and i refused. and i said, "i'm not gonna answer questions about this until you answer them." i think that's passing judgment because i was not gonna put my reputation out there to defend him if he was unwilling to go out and defend himself. >> there's a lot of talk about character and whether character is important in a presidency. do you think it is? >> yeah. >> so, with the very serious and obvious character flaws of this president, do you still think it matters? >> oh, sure. i think it matters even more. >> are you saying that the president has serious character failings that are hurting his presidency? >> no, what i'm saying is that the president displayed those mistakes he had made during the campaign, and i think that's put an even greater focus on everything that he does and says in the white house. he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. >> does he deserve it? >> does he deserve the benefit of the doubt? no, he hasn't earned it. he's got to earn that from the american people. got to earn the benefit of the doubt. >> i mean, there's not just the treatment of women -- there's the lying, right?
there's the lying. we can say that's just hyperbole, but it's more than hyperbole -- it's lying. >> well, at times, it's more than hyperbole, and other times, it's hyperbole. but i'm not gonna sit here and defend that. and i haven't -- excuse me -- i haven't publicly defended that. i think he has to defend that for himself because the words come out of his mouth. but what i would say to you again is that, on elections, there are binary choices. >> yeah. >> they're not -- he wasn't my first choice for president, margaret -- i was, right? so, like... >> but he was your second. >> well, he was because none of those other folks could win. i mean -- >> better to have somebody who can win with awful character than hillary clinton. >> who i believe has worse character. >> she probably wouldn't have the impulsiveness that we talk about the president having. >> you know, i think that's all speculation, margaret. when someone like hillary clinton got power into her hands, i don't know what she would have done with it. we wouldn't have gotten these tax cuts under hillary clinton -- we would've gotten tax increases.
we would not have gotten supreme court justices that were conservative -- we would've gotten supreme court justices that were liberal. all those things matter, i think, longer term, much more -- much more than the "access hollywood" tape. >> i want to talk about jared kushner. you talk about him in the book because, frankly, it comes down that he's the one who fired you, right? >> that's what steve bannon told me, yes. >> and you believe that. >> sure. >> right. you believe that because there's history between the two of you. >> between me and his father, not between me and him. >> but you can understand why he takes it personally. >> yes and no. >> i mean, would you separate your experience if your father had been put in jail from the prosecutor who put him in jail? >> if my father was guilty, i would. >> yeah. >> i mean, listen, if i thought that my father had not done something and that he had been wrongly accused and wrongly convicted, that would be one thing. in this instance, mr. kushner pled guilty. >> to illegal campaign contributions. >> tax evasion and witness tampering -- significant crimes. >> i was surprised that you didn't give yourself more of a defense for prosecuting
charles kushner in the book. >> i just think that it was so obvious he had to be prosecuted that -- i mean, if a guy hires a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and videotapes it and then sends the videotape to his sister to attempt to intimidate her from testifying before a grand jury, do i really need any more justification than that? i mean, it's one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that i prosecuted when i was u.s. attorney. and i was a u.s. attorney in new jersey, margaret, so we had some loathsome and disgusting crime going on there. but i just laid out the facts. and any objective person who looks at the facts knows, confronted with those facts, i had a moral and an ethical obligation to bring that prosecution. >> so, here are some of the things you say about jared in the book.
jared is also behind some of the most significant failings in the early weeks of the trump administration. he's behind in supporting the firing of comey. he's behind the government shutdown. i mean, trump keeps him around because he's a son-in-law, presumably, and he trusts him, and he loves him, but what you're saying is you should be able to separate. >> what i'm saying is that you shouldn't put him in the position in the first place. >> do you think jared is competent and up to the job? >> it depends on what you define the job as, but, certainly, being -- >> well, he's a major adviser to the president right now. >> well, listen, i just think that -- i just think that, in your mid-30s, with a background of new york real estate, that it makes it very difficult to do, and especially if your portfolio is going to include mideast peace and, you know, and the shutdown and criminal-justice reform and reinventing government. >> i'm taking that as a "no." >> margaret, if i draw the conclusions,
people will say that that's just me being bitter, and i'm not bitter -- i'm really not. i could have had a number of cabinet jobs in this administration -- ambassadorships -- they've all been offered to me, and i'm not looking for that. >> which you write -- were all offered and you weren't interested in it? >> no. >> you only wanted one job. >> well, i wanted to be president, and i told the president, when i dropped out of the race and endorsed him. and he asked me, "if i win, what do you want to do?" i said, "there's only two jobs that i would have any interest in -- vice president and attorney general. other than that, i'm not interested." >> but it seems, though, that it was jared that stymied those possibilities. >> that's certainly the way it seems. >> let me ask you about the mueller investigation. you write that you have seen mueller operate, that you respect him, that you don't think this is a political vendetta, that he is professional. a question that many people have about the mueller investigation is, they're looking at a record of a man who's been in business for 40-plus years, and then, at the highest levels of executive-branch government. is there any way,
with that degree of scrutiny, trump gets away with not being prosecuted or indicted or held guilty in some fashion? >> well, i agree with the underlying premise, which is that special counsels are not the way to go because they feel like, to justify their existence, they must bring cases. but i've said many times publicly, and i've said this to the president -- bob mueller's an honest guy, he's got integrity, he's very smart, and he's a killer. so, if he's gonna find crimes, he's going to go get them. remember, this is a guy, margaret, who was a u.s. attorney in san francisco, fired by the clinton administration, and a year or two later, calls eric holder, who then was the u.s. attorney in the district of columbia, to ask to be a murder prosecutor in the local side of the u.s. attorney's office in d.c. he could have been making seven figures at a private law firm anywhere he wanted to, and he chose to do that. that tells you the seriousness
with which this guy takes public service. i think he's a credit. i don't think this is a witch hunt. now, it doesn't mean that you're gonna find russian collusion between russia and the trump campaign. and i don't believe, as i write in the book, that it happened, but -- >> but what you say in the book is you don't think the trump campaign was coordinated enough to have pulled off collusion with the russians at the highest level. >> right. >> that doesn't mean there couldn't have been bad actors within the campaign apparatus who were, actually, willfully working with foreign adversaries. >> well, there could have been bad actors who were, even unwittingly, operating in a way that was inappropriate. the problem with the disorganization -- >> is it possible that the president could have been one of those? >> i don't think so. >> unwittingly? >> i really don't think so. i mean, i can't guarantee you, margaret -- i wasn't there every day, and i'm not his -- i am not his keeper in this regard, but i don't believe so. >> what about his son or his son-in-law? >> i don't -- again, i don't believe so. but, you know, that's why we have bob mueller -- we're not gonna have to guess. >> right. >> and one thing i know about bob is he will do --
and i think these cases are showing -- he does a completely thorough job, and he will do what he thinks is just in the circumstance, and i support it. and i've told the president, "there's no way you can make this shorter, but there's lots of ways you can make it longer, and he's making it longer every time he opens his mouth." >> so, one thing you write about in the book -- you say that president trump was constantly saddled with riffraff, which reminded me of an earlier "firing line," where william f. buckley jr. hosted henry kissinger, and they were speaking about the staffing at the nixon white house. let's take a look. >> and...
>> the problem was, some fool went into the oval office and did what nixon told him to do. >> yeah. >> is that the problem the president has? >> oh, i don't know. i mean, in what context? >> trump tweets off a lot of things, but you need people with maturity and discretion who know when to walk in and do what he says and know when to walk in and take a spin and then come back and figure out what you're really gonna do. >> yeah, and i think, for the most part, even with the indictment i make in the book of a lot of the people around him, i think there have always been people who have been understanding of how to do that, how to do the part that dr. kissinger just talked about. but, listen, the next two years and how it's gonna go is gonna be determined by a lot of these choices
that the president makes in terms of personnel. >> is it about the staffing, or is it about the person? >> it's about both. >> because -- well, that's -- but the point is... >> but it's about both. >> ...you're saying that, if trump had better staff, he'd be better, but how much of it is about trump? >> no. it's always something that's about trump, but i never said it isn't. i said he made bad choices. >> what we've painted here is a picture of a president who has bad staffing, bad character, bad decision making, has bad judgment... >> well, not the -- >> ...but still [chuckling] deserves to be president, in your view. >> he is the president of the united states. and i don't want to come off as me saying here that i think he has bad character. i think he has made mistakes. and everybody -- and we've elected -- >> do you think he has good character? >> well, listen, he's always been very good -- very good on a number of issues that i care deeply about. >> but that's not -- that's -- that's about policy issues. that's not his character. >> well, but that's -- part of what drives policy issues is character, in my view. >> mnh. >> margaret, i believe he's a good person. does that mean he's faultless? absolutely not, and his faults have been on display for the american people, both during the campaign and after the campaign.
but, by the way, so were hillary clinton's. and so -- >> do you think she has bad character? >> listen, i think that she's done a lot of very questionable things over the course of her career. i'm not gonna say she has bad character, but when i combine her failed judgments versus his, his policy prescriptions versus her, i pick him. and i think it's a completely justifiable pick that a plurality of the american people joined me in in 2016. >> when you won reelection, you won reelection by double digits. you outperformed donald trump with african-americans. you outperformed donald trump with women. you outperformed donald trump... >> with hispanics. >> ...with independents, with hispanics, and with millennials. >> yeah, that's why i thought i had a chance to be president. >> you -- that earlier chris christie was a model for a future republican party -- a blue-state republican governor who had this way of working across the aisle and being pragmatic. >> yeah. >> right? you outperformed donald trump
in every single one of these categories. you cannot deny that trump has been bad for the gop brand. >> listen, what he's been is limiting. he's been limiting for it, and limiting it is bad. i mean, listen, i believe in a different way of approaching these things, and i campaigned that way. i didn't win. >> you have a lot to say about jared in this book. how do you think jared handled the shutdown? >> well, i don't know what he did in it. i only know what i read from accounts. >> he was the chief negotiator, apparently, based on those accounts. >> yeah, and if those accounts are right, then he failed. the fact is, i believe the president should not have engaged in this brinksmanship unless you had a plan on how to get out before we hit ground. >> is that the president's fault or is that jared's fault? >> it's both, and i think what happened with the shutdown was i think they all convinced themselves that the democrats were just gonna give in. >> yeah. >> and i looked at the president straight in the eye five, six weeks ago, and said, "they've been waiting two years for this. they're not gonna give in." >> right. >> if you want the wall funding that badly and you want to get it done,
then you've got to give them something that you normally wouldn't be willing to give because they're giving something that they've said publicly they're not willing to give. that's the way politics works. >> the title of the book is "let me finish." >> yeah. >> because of the title, it makes me think you're not finished. >> i'm not. >> do you want the president to read this book? do you think -- >> i've sent it to him. >> do you think you have -- [ laughs ] that's a yes? >> yeah. >> do you think you've got another shot or bite at the apple in this administration? >> well, i mean, listen, i talked to the chief of staff five weeks ago, so... >> but you turned it down. >> i did. and i don't know that there's anything he can offer me that will make me want to be in this administration. >> where is the trump presidency heading? >> it's a good question. i think this -- the president has a moment now, after the shutdown is over, to take -- attempt to reevaluate and hit a reset button, and i think the american people would welcome him to do that -- compromise, work with each other, get something done. >> not what he's doing. >> well, i think he's got some big choices to make.
the one thing people have always underestimated about donald trump is his sense of self-preservation. >> what do you mean by that? >> what i mean is that he can gauge when he's gone too far, to the point where, "uh-oh. my business life may be at risk. my personal life may be at risk. my political life may be at risk." so he's gonna -- he's gonna make an evaluation of whether or not any further mistakes, like the shutdown, would make it impossible for him to be reelected. i think, if he -- if he examines all this, he's gonna know that he needs a bit of a reset, both in terms of personnel and in terms of approach. if he does that, he has a chance to be successful. >> well, "let me finish" is the new book, and i hope that chris christie does get a chance to finish. >> i appreciate that, margaret. thanks for having me on. it's a great show. >> thanks for being here. >> you got it. >> "firing line with margaret hoover" is made possible by...
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