Christie Pulls Out of Trump’s Search for New Chief of Staff

December 14, 2018, 7:04 PM UTC

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that he’s asked Donald Trump not to consider him as White House chief of staff.

“I have told the president that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment,” Christie said in a statement. “As a result, I have asked him to no longer keep me in any of his considerations for this post.”

Christie had been Trump’s leading candidate as the president considers a successor to John Kelly, according to two people familiar with the matter. Instead, he would become the latest person to turn down one of the most powerful jobs in Washington.

Trump met with Christie in the White House residence on Thursday after a holiday reception. The president announced Kelly’s departure last weekend without arranging a replacement, leading to a chaotic and hasty job search after his top choice, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, turned down the post.

The president hadn’t made a final decision before Christie withdrew. He’s scheduled to have lunch on Friday with another candidate for the job, his former deputy campaign manager David Bossie.

Other people Trump is considering for the job include Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Blackstone Group executive Wayne Berman, people familiar with the matter have said.

Christie shares Trump’s reputation for a pugnacious approach to politics. He’s also a former U.S. attorney who would have provided the West Wing a leader experienced with the intricacies of a federal prosecution as Trump faces multiple investigations into his campaign for president.

But the New Jersey governor’s relationship with one key West Wing official remains fraught. Christie famously prosecuted Charles Kushner — the father of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner — while serving as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey. The elder Kushner pleaded guilty to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign contributions and was sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Kushner had made clear to other White House aides that he would support Christie being appointed to the job and that he appreciated the former governor’s work on overhauling federal prison sentencing rules, a top priority for the president and his son-in-law.

Trump announced Kelly’s departure from the White House on Saturday and had intended to install Nick Ayers, the 36-year-old former political consultant helming the vice president’s staff, as the next chief. But Ayers said he’d only be willing to do the job on an interim basis after promising his family he would return to Georgia, while the president wanted a top lieutenant who would serve for the remainder of his first term.

Trump has sought to dispel the notion that Ayers spurned him, insisting he’s been approached by a dozen potential candidates who wanted the job. But a number of possible choices — Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, and Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget — indicated they would prefer to stay in their current positions.

Representative Mark Meadows, the North Carolina congressman who leads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, initially expressed interest in the job, but Trump told him he’d prefer Meadows remain in Congress.