Donald Trump is off to a miserable start to the second half of what appears to be the first and only term of his administration.
He rebukes the losing Republican candidates for the House of Representatives. He makes a fool of himself trying to spin the massive losses in the House of Representatives, governorships, and state legislatures as a victory. The Wall Street Journal reports on how he directed the payments of hush money to his mistresses, which may make him subject to an indictment for directing a criminal conspiracy to violate Federal election laws.
The most serious problem Trump faces, however, is the need to hire an attorney general to replace the fired Jeff Sessions. His appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general has turned into a full – blown political catastrophe. Whitaker’s previously published comments have made clear his determination to obstruct the Mueller probe by any means necessary. He has been quoted as opposing the appointment of any judge who doesn’t follow the New Testament, thereby excluding the appointment of any Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim jurist. Even loyal Trumpists are aghast at what a political disaster the Whitaker appointment has turned out to be.
So Trump will have to appoint an attorney general soon. He will be seeking to nominate a candidate who can be confirmed and has the qualities of 1) gravitas; and 2) loyalty to the Donald. Attention has turned to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as a possible choice, since Trump perceives him as possessing the aforesaid qualities.
Before I assess this option, let me make a full disclosure to those who have not been among my regular readers. For the entire eight years of the Christie administration, I was his most severe Republican critic. I thought his ethics were highly questionable, his policies were cowardly and designed to avoid any controversy that could negatively impact his presidential campaign, and he did not have the foreign policy knowledge necessary for a credible presidential candidate.
Having said that, as compared with my views on Donald Trump, my feelings about Chris Christie constitute absolute adulation. Unlike Donald Trump, he is not a misogynist, xenophobe, or bigot. And while I view Christie as a below average governor and a failure as a party leader, he was a successful U.S. Attorney for New Jersey during the Bush 43 administration. By “successful,” I am referring to his obtaining major convictions in the arenas of public corruption and terrorism. As long as he avoided his penchant for ethical controversy, he could be a successful US Attorney General as well.
Speculation is that Jared Kushner will prevail upon Trump not to appoint the man who put his father, billionaire real estate tycoon Charlie Kushner in jail. Jared may try, but he will be unsuccessful. Trump is desperate for an Attorney General who meets his criteria, and he will not let Jared Kushner’s sentiments stand in the way.
Christie is a figure of gravitas, and he would face no problems in being confirmed by the Senate. Republicans hold the majority, and Christie would receive the vote of every GOP Senator, plus New Jersey Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker.
To be sure, liberal Democrats would raise the Bridgegate scandal as a basis for denying Christie confirmation. Also, they would raise the issue of Christie’s actions as US Attorney in awarding lucrative no-bid contracts to politically connected friends to enforce “deferred prosecution agreements” with medical device companies that conceded wrongdoing. And Christie’s successor as New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney, Paul Fishman, would be on MSNBC and CNN every night, arguing against Christie’s appointment. None of this would work. Christie would be confirmed.
Trump would want Christie to pledge to him that he would not recuse himself from the Mueller Russia probe. I think that Christie could make such a pledge without any ethical problem. To my knowledge, he was never involved in any way with the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. And his involvement with the campaign per se does not, in my view, mandate a recusal.
It would help Christie enormously if he could obtain a written opinion from a top legal authority confirming that he doesn’t have to recuse himself on the Russia matter. I don’t know how long it’s been since Christie spoke with John Wefing, his constitutional law professor at Seton Hall. He should make a call to Wefing his first order of business in the morning and ask if he could write the aforesaid opinion.
Wefing, the biographer of New Jersey’s former iconic governor and Supreme Court Chief Justice Dick Hughes, is a person of supreme decency, unquestionable integrity, towering intellect, and unsurpassed competency and authority in the area of constitutional law. An opinion of John Wefing stating that Christie does not need to recuse himself would be totally dispositive of the issue.
So I expect that with great fanfare, Chris Christie will be appointed and confirmed as US Attorney General. He will set a record for television appearances by a newly confirmed cabinet appointee. Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski will be gushing to have him as their guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. Nicolle Wallace, a complete Christie acolyte, will have him on as her guest on MSNBC’s Deadline: White House every night of the week.
But Donald Trump will soon learn how badly he misjudged the likelihood of Christie remaining loyal to him. To the consternation of the president, it won’t take very long for Chris Christie to “throw Donald Trump under the bus” and become an avid supporter of Bob Mueller and his Russia probe. Christie worked closely with Mueller while he was serving as New Jersey US Attorney and Mueller was serving as Director of the FBI. This would be the right thing to do, but that is not why Christie will dump The Donald and support Mueller. He is a man of irrepressible ambition, and his support of Mueller would make him a national hero. He knows that. With Chris Christie, loyalty takes a distant second place to his ambition
With Christie’s support, Mueller would be able to take actions to bring the Trump administration to a close. Christie would become the darling of the media, and talk will become rife about Christie replacing Mike Pence as the likely 2020 GOP presidential nominee. This will be sweet revenge for Christie for Pence’s firing of him as transition director after the 2016 election. All Christie’s past ethical misfeasance and malfeasance would swiftly be forgotten by the adoring media.
Don’t get me wrong: I will never be a supporter of Chris Christie for president. I honestly believe, however, that much to my dismay, Christie’s appointment as US Attorney General would make it possible for him to stage the greatest presidential campaign comeback since that of the Richard Nixon, the president he most resembles. I certainly hope that I am wrong.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.