He may usually be in Donald Trump’s corner, but former New Jersey governor Chris Christie isn’t joining the president in calling the Mueller’s probe investigation into Russian election meddling a hoax -- or characterizing the report as a knockout victory for the Trump administration.
“It was not a hoax,” Christie, an ABC News contributor, told the ABC News podcast, "The Investigation".
“It is a good day for the president because whenever you're investigated for a crime and you're not charged, it's a good day,” Christie continued. “There are still many challenges that this report is going to present for the president going forward, from Congress and from the other 14 investigations that are going on at U.S. attorney's offices around the country."
While Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team ultimately did not establish that members of the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 election, Christie disagreed with President Trump’s often repeated claim that the probe was a “witch hunt.”
He added that the report contained information that necessitated a counterintelligence investigation into Russian election interference, saying, “The depth and breadth of the Russian efforts to me was really chilling.”
Despite finding that there was not sufficient evidence to charge any Trump campaign official of acting as an unregistered agent of Russia, the report asserts that Mueller’s investigation identified “numerous links” between individuals with ties to Russia and people orbiting Trump during the lead up to the election.
Christie downplayed accounts of contact between Russia and the Trump campaign, saying that besides the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, the interactions happened at a low level. But Christie added that his advice to Trump in the wake of the report’s release is to take a hard stance against Russian interference.
“I would shift the focus to that quite frankly to bring his intelligence leaders in,” Christie said. “Say, ‘Listen we now have a roadmap for what the Russians did. What are we doing to prepare for the 2020 election? I authorize you to do everything it is you need to do to protect the integrity of that election.’”
The report also revealed that Christie was one of the approximately 500 people interviewed by Mueller’s team. Christie told ABC News the interview lasted between two and three hours. Christie’s interview is cited multiple times during the part of the report that details the investigation into whether the president obstructed justice in connection to the Russia probe.
The special counsel found that the president instructed several members of his administration to interfere with the investigation. However, the report concluded that in a number of cases, the officials ignored Trump’s commands.
“I think any chief executive wants people around them who will have different opinions and will push back if they think you're doing something wrong,” Christie said. “The amount of times that it was done is probably the unusual part.”