WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he has asked Donald Trump not to consider him as White House chief of staff, the latest person to turn down one of the most powerful jobs in Washington.
“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 become Trump’s leading candidate as the president considers a successor to John Kelly, according to two people familiar with the matter. 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 had not made a final decision before Christie withdrew. He had lunch on Friday with another candidate for the job, his former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, a meeting scheduled before Ayers declined Trump’s entreaties.
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 is also a former US 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.
Christie is publishing a memoir next month in which he is expected to revisit his prosecution of Charles Kushner and his relationship with Trump, entitled Let Me Finish: Trump, The Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey And The Power Of In-Your-Face Politics.
On Amazon.com, the book’s description says “Christie will take readers into the ego-driven power struggles among the top advisers competing for Trump’s mercurial attention, figures like Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who never forgot that Christie was the prosecutor who put his wealthy father behind bars.”
But 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 would 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.
The two could not come to terms, and Ayers said he would depart the White House at the end of the year.
Pence is also seeking to hire a new chief of staff.
Trump has sought to dispel the notion that Ayers spurned him, insisting he has been approached by a dozen potential candidates who wanted the job.
But a number of possible choices – including 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, expressed interest in the job, but Trump told him he would prefer Meadows remain in Congress.