Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that he does not have enough information to speculate whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, speaking in response to questions about the guilty plea by a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Christie, however, said he suspected more information would come to light as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation continues.
A prominent Trump backer, Christie said he took the criminal information filed against Papadopoulos and his plea agreement with prosecutors “at face value.” An unpaid foreign policy consultant to Trump’s campaign, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The special counsel’s office charged that Papadopoulos learned that Russians were in possession of “thousands of emails,” or “dirt” about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and that he sought to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The charging document for Papadopoulos is a 13-page statement of facts compiled by Mueller’s team. Christie said there was not enough specificity or material in the document to prove or disprove collusion.
“There could be lots of other information behind that that we just don’t know about yet, and I suspect there is,” Christie said during an unrelated news conference in Trenton. “So, to speculate about it now would be reckless because you just don’t know.”
Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were indicted separately Monday on charges that they laundered millions of dollars from overseas shell companies. Christie said none of those charges “had anything to do with the 2016 campaign” and said they were part of “a pretty straightforward, garden-variety money-laundering indictment.”
Christie said he never met Papadopoulos and described his role in the Trump campaign as a limited one. He said he mostly just helped prepare Trump for debates, major speeches or press conferences, and never held campaign events on his own.
“I was not a member of the staff. I was not a surrogate. I didn’t go out and do campaign events on my own,” Christie said.
For a time, Christie led Trump’s transition team. But he said Tuesday that he never caught a whiff of any of the wrondgoing being alleged by Mueller’s office.
A former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Christie praised Mueller’s team for keeping the Papadopoulos affair under wraps for months, with no leaks to the news media. But details about Manafort did filter out over the last several months, and Christie suggested those leaks might be coming from Mueller’s team. That would be a violation of federal law, he said, and it “compromises the integrity of the prosecution.”
News about the indictments came out days before Manafort and Gates were arrested on Monday, first on CNN and then confirmed by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, although the two targets were not named in those reports.
“I hope that what the special counsel’s office does is to re-emphasize to their agents that they’re working with, and to the lawyers who are working with them, that grand jury confidentiality is the law, and that leaking — to the media or anybody else — grand jury information is illegal,” Christie said.
There’s no evidence that leaks are coming from the special counsel’s investigation team, and, according to Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare blog, “it’s a common tactic for defense lawyers to put material out there in a fashion favorable to their clients and to make sure the sourcing is suggestive of an improper prosecutorial leak — and then complain publicly about prosecutorial leaks.”
Christie dismissed this suggestion Tuesday, saying he didn’t think it was in the interest of Manafort’s lawyers to let the press know that, “’Psst, we’re getting arrested on Monday.’”