- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2018

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Sunday that President Trump is exacerbating his White House’s proclivity for staff chaos by bringing family members on as top advisers, amid heightened scrutiny of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner’s business interests.

Mr. Christie also said embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stay on the job if he can be effective, but that Mr. Trump “has to act” if he’s lost confidence in Mr. Sessions.

“The problem is the president has been ill-served, in my view, by staff over the period of the last 15 months, where they create a lot of the distractions through their infighting, their leaking,” Mr. Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“The situation is made much worse by the fact that when you have family members in the White House — it makes it much more difficult,” he said.

Amid significant staff turnover, including communications director Hope Hicks’ recently announcing her resignation, Mr. Kushner and presidential daughter Ivanka Trump have weathered the storm and remained top advisers to the president.

Mr. Christie said he wasn’t implying that the Trump family isn’t up to the task, and he even complimented Ms. Trump’s work on the GOP’s tax cut push.

But he said unforeseen circumstances Mr. Trump can’t predict are going to pop up and could warrant staffing changes.

“In a normal situation, you might terminate a staff member for that reason,” he said, saying it becomes a lot more difficult “if you’re going to sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with that person.”

Amid changes ordered by Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Mr. Kushner recently had his top-secret security clearance downgraded to secret, though the White House has been complimentary of Mr. Kushner in public and says he’ll continue to serve in the West Wing.

A recent Washington Post report said officials in several countries privately had talked about manipulating Mr. Kushner through his complex financial arrangements, and that his contacts with foreign officials were among the reasons Mr. Kushner had been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance.

Mr. Kushner’s contacts with foreign officials also have been part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The New York Times reported last week that Kushner Cos., the real estate firm run by Mr. Kushner’s family, received hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from companies after top executives held meetings with Mr. Kushner.

A recent report in The Intercept also said a failed attempt by his father, Charles Kushner, to secure Qatari financing for the company’s beleaguered 666 Fifth Avenue building in New York City came weeks before the White House, with Jared Kushner’s backing, offered key support to countries who were behind a regional blockade of Qatar.

“If it’s true, it’s damning. If it’s true, Jared Kushner has to go,” Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said Sunday on ABC.

“If the reason that this administration put U.S. troops at risk in Qatar was to protect the Kushners’ financial interests, then that’s all the evidence you need to make some big changes in the White House,” Mr. Murphy said.

Mr. Christie said all staffers have to be thinking in terms of what’s best for the president.

“I think what the staff has to do is, in fact, what Hope Hicks I think did,” he said, referring to Ms. Hicks’ resignation.

Mr. Christie said that amid the handling of spousal abuse allegations involving former White House staffer Rob Porter and other issues, Ms. Hicks saw that she was becoming “a distraction” for the president.

“She did the noble thing, in my view, which was to say, ‘You know what? If I’m not a hundred percent an asset for the president, I’m going to back away,’ ” he said.

As a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Mr. Christie prosecuted Charles Kushner for tax evasion and other issues during the 2000s, though he insisted last year that was “ancient history.”

Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff, acknowledged on the program that employing family members does complicate things, but that Jared Kushner and Ms. Trump have gotten into more of a groove recently.

He said that in the past six to eight months, the two “have really found, I think, a sort of place for them that fits in nicely with their portfolio.”

“I think over time, they found a much better place,” Mr. Priebus said.

Amid the resignations and other staffing issues, the president has expressed significant frustration in recent days with the attorney general, questioning whether Mr. Sessions is being aggressive enough in probing potential intelligence abuses during the Obama administration.

“The president has the right to do what he wants to do,” said Mr. Christie, who had been among those mentioned as a potential attorney general in the Trump administration.

“And if the president has absolutely no confidence in the attorney general, then the president has to act, not just criticize, but act. And he has the right to do that,” he said.

Mr. Priebus said Mr. Trump is still burning over Mr. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from investigations tied to Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.

“He feels that was the first sin, the original sin,” Mr. Priebus said. “And he feels slighted by it. He doesn’t like it. And he’s not going to let it go.”


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