The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chris Christie is now a pundit, and he is actually worth watching

Former NJ @GovChristie on what Pres. Trump will say at the #SOTU: “I think he needs to get back to being the president who is speaking to their [the American people's] concerns.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 30, 2018

When President Trump's former advisers become television commentators, the results are often underwhelming. People like Corey Lewandowski, Jason Miller and Boris Epshteyn are heavy on talking points, light on insight and seemingly unable — perhaps literally, because of non-disparagement agreements — to say anything critical about their former boss.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie could be different.

The one-time head of Trump's transition team and chair of a White House opioid commission is now an ABC contributor and will be part of the network's State of the Union coverage on Tuesday. He debuted on “Good Morning America” earlier in the day and displayed an ability — and, just as important, a willingness — to offer meaningful analysis.

Yes, Christie began his appearance by minimizing the significance of the federal law-enforcement investigation into Russian election meddling, saying Trump, in his speech, should “turn the page to things that the American people really care about.” Christie also provided this rationale for why Trump ought to avoid talking about the Russia probe: “If he gets in and gets down that rabbit hole, he tends to get angry about it, and that's not the person you want to see tonight.”

Christie's comments call to mind this passage from a December Washington Post report:

Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.
Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.
“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Christie said on the record what others have said on background — talking about Russia can infuriate and distract Trump from the task at hand. That is informative.

Christie also deviated from a favorite White House strategy, which is to claim that an investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has found no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the presidential race. Such a claim is unverifiable, since Mueller's findings remain unknown, and Christie said as much to ABCs George Stephanopoulos.

“The one thing I can tell you for sure, and one of the things I loved about being a prosecutor, was only I knew what I knew,” Christie said. “Only Bob Mueller really knows what he knows, and we won't know it for a while. So everybody who speculates about this stuff, George — they're throwing darts at the wall with a blindfold on. Bob Mueller knows what's going on.”

Christie's background as a prosecutor is valuable — so long as he draws on it — because he knows key players such as Mueller, former FBI director James B. Comey and new FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. Christie commented on all three during his appearance on GMA.

On Mueller: “Robert Mueller is not someone to be trifled with. And he's not someone who takes lightly the words of anybody who he's looking at.”

On Comey: “Jim Comey and I are friends, as well. I worked with him for a long time. But he made some pretty big mistakes in 2016 with both parties that I think were wrong for the FBI director to do.”

On Wray and Monday's news that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe would step down: “Chris and I have known each other, and I worked for him at the Justice Department back in the Bush administration. So I know him very well. I think this is Chris Wray methodically putting his team in place. . . . One thing I know about Director Wray: He will make those decisions himself. No one else will make those decisions for him.”

Christie need not betray Trump to be a good analyst. He just needs to be willing to call balls and strikes, and share a little inside perspective on the president and the people around him.

Former NJ @GovChristie on FBI Deputy Director McCabe stepping down: “It's pretty clear to me that Chris Wray has made the decision, the FBI Director . . . I think this is Chris Wray methodically putting his team in place.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 30, 2018