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After dropping out of the 2016 presidential race, Chris Christie stunned the political world by becoming the first major official to endorse Donald Trump. A friend of Trump's for fifteen years, the two-term New Jersey governor understood the future president as well as anyone in the political arena–and Christie quickly became one of Trump's most trusted advisers. Tapped with running Trump's transition team, Christie was nearly named his running mate. But within days of Trump's surprise victory over Hillary Clinton, Christie was in for his own surprise: he was being booted out.
In Let Me Finish, Christie sets the record straight about his tenure as a corruption-fighting prosecutor and a Republican running a Democratic state, as well as what really happened on the 2016 campaign trail and inside Trump Tower. Christie takes readers inside the ego-driven battles for Trump's attention among figures like Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowksi, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Jeff Sessions, and Paul Manafort. He shows how the literal trashing of Christie's transition plan put the new administration in the hands of self-serving amateurs, all but guaranteeing the Trump presidency's shaky start. Christie also addresses hot-button issues from his own years in power, including what really went down during Bridgegate. And, for the first time, Christie tells the full story of the Kushner saga: how, as a federal prosecutor, Christie put Jared Kushner's powerful father behind bars–a fact Trump's son-in-law makes Christie pay for later.
Packed with news-making revelations and told with the kind of bluntness few politicians can match, Christie's memoir is an essential guide to understanding the Trump presidency.
Steve Bannon was never big on small talk.
But on this particular Thursday morning, two days after Donald Trump shocked nearly everyone by getting himself elected president, Trump’s self-impressed “campaign CEO” was even more abrupt than usual.
“Sit down a sec,” Steve mumbled in that distinctive rasp of his, summoning me from a transition-team meeting and into his spartan glass office on Trump Tower’s fourteenth floor. Steve Bannon is the only person I have ever met who can look pretentious and like an unmade bed at the very same time. He motioned for me to shut the door and sit down.
“We’ve decided to make a change,” he said, getting right to the point.
“Good,” I answered. “What are we changing?”
His response came in a single word.
“The vice president is going to be the new chairman of the transition,” Steve went on, “and you’re out. Going forward, you have no position of any kind in the transition, and we do not want you to be in the building anymore.”
I wasn’t only being fired. I was being eliminated. Vaporized.
I’d been close to the president-elect for the past fourteen years, longer than anyone else in the inner circle who wasn’t related by marriage or blood. I’d been the first governor in the nation to endorse him—the first major elected official of any sort. I’d just spent the past nine months campaigning with and for him. Since May, I had been chairman of his transition team, a huge responsibility he had asked me to take on, designing an entire federal government in his image and likeness.
Was this really how it was all going to end?
I could feel my heart pounding as Steve barreled on, laying out my future as he imagined it. I had to call on all my experience as a US Attorney and governor just to hold my anger in. It was crucial to keep my cool. No way was I letting Steve Bannon see how devastating this development felt to me.
“Whose decision is this?” I asked him.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Steve deflected.
As far as I was concerned, that wasn’t remotely good enough. “I want to know whose decision it is,” I repeated. “Did the president-elect make this decision?”
“It’s really of no consequence, Governor,” Steve insisted. “The decision is made. There is no changing it. We expect you to comply.”
I’d been dealing with Steve periodically since August, when he left Breitbart News, at least officially, and moved into Trump Tower as chief executive of the Trump campaign. We’d worked together on debate prep. He’d gotten involved in some transition stuff. We’d talked strategy quite a few times. Gruff, bright, and never lacking faith in his own brilliance, Steve saw himself not as a political operative or a campaign adviser but as a high-level executive. From everything I had witnessed, he had one overriding goal: ingratiating himself with the Trump family. Everything else was secondary. For months, Steve had been telling the candidate he had a 100-percent chance of victory—then saying something far less optimistic behind his back. But now that the votes had all been counted and the impossible had occurred, Steve seemed certain that, come January 20, 2017, he’d be moving into the West Wing of the White House as the new president’s chief of staff.
I stared at Steve across his desk. So this was how he wanted to play it? Like I was an errant child who deserved no explanation as I was bounced out the door? Steve knew and I knew—and certainly Donald knew—that I’d been one of the very few grown-ups on this wild ride of a campaign. The president-elect and I had an excellent relationship. And now I was being banished—no warning and no fingerprints—just when the time came to execute our carefully crafted, thirty-volume transition plan. Was this where my friendship with the soon-to-be-president was going to crash and burn? I was about to find out.
“Okay, that’s fine,” I told Steve as I stood to leave.
“By the way,” I added, “just so you know. Since you won’t tell me anything, I’m going to have to assume it was your decision. You are the one conveying it. Now I’m going to go downstairs to that scrum of reporters in the lobby and tell them I was just fired by Steve Bannon. That it was Steve Bannon’s decision and Steve Bannon’s alone. And that’s not all I’ll say. You can count on the fact that I’ll have a lot to say. Then you can deal with all the incoming and explain everything yourself. Good to see you.”
The reporters in the lobby would eat this stuff up. I was certain of that. If there was anything I’d learned from two decades in New Jersey politics and as a federal prosecutor, it’s that reporters like nothing more than a life-or-death feud. Two minutes from now, Steve’s cell phone was going to explode.
Suddenly, Steve changed his tune. “No, no, no,” I heard him say, not quite as unequivocally as before. “Wait a second. You can’t walk out and do that.”
“Oh yeah, I can,” I told him. “I’m no longer associated with this place. I’m not allowed in the building. You made your decision. Now I am making mine.”
“Governor,” Steve pleaded. “Sit down, and let’s talk about it.”
“What do we have to talk about?” I asked, glancing at the open door. “I should leave.”
I knew this couldn’t be Donald’s idea. He and I had been there for each other, time and again. He said to me as far back as Labor Day: “Chris, you and I are so smart, and we’ve known each other for so long, we could do the whole transition together if we just leave the victory party two hours early!” I loved the self-confidence and appreciated the compliment, but, “No,” I’d told him, “we need to do this right.” Now that the election was over and victory was ours, I was even more grateful that I’d talked him down from his just-wing-it approach. It made no sense for Donald Trump, who had never held public office, to sever his relationship with one of the few people around him who’d actually run an executive branch of government. How did that serve him? Of course it didn’t. And now the momentum in Steve Bannon’s office seemed to be shifting my way.
“No, no,” Steve said. “I want to talk to you about this.”
“Well, I want to know who fired me, because I know it wasn’t you,” I said. “You’re just here as the executioner. Who fired me? The president-elect? Because, Steve, if you don’t tell me who it is, I am going to say it was you.”
That, right there, is where Steve Bannon blinked.
In the decade and a half I have known Donald Trump, I’ve seen in him many of the qualities that have defined America’s leaders through the years. He knows who he is and what he believes in. He has a keen understanding of what regular people are feeling. He commands extraordinary loyalty from his supporters and has unique communication skills. He is utterly fearless. Donald doesn’t care who he angers or how things used to be. He just doesn’t. The harsher the attacks on him, the more energized he gets. This is a man who wakes up every morning with unparalleled self-confidence.
But he also has deficits, significant gaps in his experience and personality that, if left unchecked, will inevitably hobble him. All presidents have these, even the greatest ones, though Donald’s are uniquely his. He acts and speaks on impulse. He doesn’t always grasp the inner workings of government, which are different from the intricacies of the business world. And he trusts people he shouldn’t, including some of the people who are closest to him.
That is why, as he prepared to take the oath of office, Donald so urgently needed the right people around him and a solid structure in place. Many of the problems he would go on to face during his first two years in office were caused at least in part by the absence of that foundation. The infighting and chaos in the White House. The failure to get important parts of his agenda through Congress. The revolving door of deeply flawed individuals—amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons—who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia.
Here are the facts of the Trump transition: The day after Trump was elected, he was handed a detailed road map that would have avoided many of these pitfalls and launched him on a far more promising path, a plan that was fully consistent with his values, his campaign promises, and his publicly stated views. But that plan was thrown in the trash. Literally. All thirty binders were tossed in a Trump Tower dumpster, never to be seen again. Steve Bannon, Rick Dearborn, Jared Kushner and others, for their own selfish reasons, got rid of the guidance that would have made their candidate an immensely more effective president and would have saved him an awful lot of heartache, too. In so doing, they stole from the man they’d just helped elect the launch he so richly deserved.
The situation isn’t hopeless. It can still be reversed. But America and its forty-fifth president have been paying the price for these foolish decisions ever since. Instead of a well-oiled administration with an effective one-hundred- and two-hundred-day legislative strategy, the president got the epic failure of the timing and execution of Obamacare repeal. Instead of a border wall and a merit-based immigration policy, he got an ill-conceived Muslim ban that was immediately blocked in court.
Instead of high-quality, vetted appointees for key administration posts, he got the Russian lackey and future federal felon Michael Flynn as national security adviser. He got the greedy and inexperienced Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He got the high-flying Tom Price as health and human services secretary. He got the not-ready-for-prime-time Jeff Sessions as attorney general, promptly recusing himself from the Justice Department’s Russian-collusion probe. He got a stranger named Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. He almost got the alleged spouse abuser Andrew Puzder as labor secretary. Worse, he did get the alleged wife abuser Rob Porter as White House staff secretary. He almost got the hotheaded Vincent Viola as army secretary. He got the Apprentice show loser Omarosa Manigault in whatever Omarosa’s job purported to be. (I never could figure that one out.) Too often, these were the kinds of people he got. Too many Rick Dearborns. Too few Kellyanne Conways. A boatload of Sebastian Gorkas. Too few Steven Mnuchins. Out on the campaign trail, Donald had spoken frequently about knowing “all the best people.” Far too often, he’s found himself saddled with the riffraff.
I know exactly how this happened. I was there for most of it. I did everything I could to make sure my friend Donald reached the White House fully prepared to serve. But a handful of selfish individuals sidetracked our very best efforts. They set loose toxic forces that have made Trump’s presidency far less effective than it would otherwise have been. If this tragedy is ever going to be reversed, it is vital that everyone know exactly how it occurred.
Once Steve Bannon started unburdening himself that day in his Trump Tower office, he couldn’t seem to stop. “The kid’s been taking an ax to your head with the boss ever since I got here,” he blurted out. “It’s been constant. He never stops. Ancient bitterness, I guess.”
In Bannon-speak, the kid is only one person. Not Donald Jr. Not younger son Eric. Not Ivanka or Tiffany. The kid is Jared Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump and the son of the real estate developer Charles Kushner, a man I once sent to prison for tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign contributions. The kid is the soft-spoken son-in-law of Donald Trump.
“What I’ve learned every day since August,” Steve continued, “is if you want to survive around here, you’ve got to agree with the kid ninety-five percent of the time. You have to.”
And there it was. Steve Bannon, chief executive officer of the Trump campaign, had just made clear to me that one person and one person only was responsible for the faceless execution that Steve was now attempting to carry out. Jared Kushner, still apparently seething over events that had occurred a decade ago, was exacting a plot of revenge against me, a hit job that made no sense at all for the man we had just helped elect. And Steve Bannon, hotshot, big-balls campaign executive, was quietly acquiescing to it.
What wimps. What cowards. And how disloyal to Donald Trump.
It says a lot about Steve that he was willing to fire me to stay on Jared’s good side, yet he couldn’t bear to be fingered as the one who’d done the deed. Back where I come from, which is New Jersey, that’s what we call a lying snake.
“It’s unacceptable to me that I’m no longer on the team and that I’m being publicly hung out in this way,” I said to him. “So we need to figure something out.”
Up till then, the conversation had lasted less than five minutes. What came next took two and a half hours. Steve and I sat there, face-to-face in that glass-walled office of his, going back and forth and back and forth over what my future role would be, while other staffers paraded up and down the hallway, peering in on us, wondering what on earth was going on in there for so long. I got it. Here was the presumptive chief of staff and the chairman of the transition both looking thoroughly agitated. Just from the traffic and the glances, I could tell that people were freaking out. They had to find out what was being said in there. Just a tidbit, just a little morsel, so the leaking could begin.
“By the way, you’re still a serious candidate for attorney general,” Steve said after he’d finally given up on my proposed banishment and I’d agreed to stay on as vice chair of the transition team, however meaningless that might be.
I couldn’t believe he was saying that. “Wait a second,” I said to him. “How can you tell me I’m a serious candidate for attorney general? Weren’t you just firing me? This makes no sense at all.”
Steve hinted strongly, without quite saying so, that the attorney general idea was coming straight from America’s next president. “There aren’t a lot of candidates he’ll trust for attorney general,” Steve said, immediately ruling out former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and US senator Jeff Sessions, from Alabama. “Rudy doesn’t want it. He will only take secretary of state. Sessions wants it, and I love Sessions. I’m a big supporter of Sessions, but he doesn’t belong as attorney general. He’s not strong enough. We need somebody really strong as attorney general, and you’re the best person for it. I’m going to advocate for you for attorney general. Please tell me you’ll be willing to continue to be considered.”
It all sounded nuts to me, and I told him so. “You guys are going to fire me publicly, and then you’re going to turn around and make me attorney general? Who’s going to buy this?”
Steve insisted it was all on the up-and-up, but I couldn’t believe anything I was hearing from him. I needed to get out of that office, out of the building, out of the city, and back home to New Jersey. I needed to be around some people who were sane.
Steve Bannon had just shown his true character to me. If he was telling the truth, he was a traitor, avoiding the heat from me by fingering Jared Kushner as my political assassin. If he was lying, he was blaming a member of the president-elect’s family for a deed he or someone else was truly behind. Either way, Steve really was a snake. Donald Trump would discover that in the months ahead, as would Jared, the young man Steve was hoping to curry favor with and was, according to Steve, obsessed with destroying me.
I’ve been waiting to tell this story, the whole story, the way it deserves to be told. To take readers to places they’ve never been before. To share hard-earned lessons and surprising insights. To clear up some lingering misconceptions. To unmask more than a few phonies, connivers, power grabbers, and snakes. To sing the praises of some overlooked heroes.
Others have written books: journalists with axes to grind, ex-staffers with unhappy exits, assorted hangers-on with dollar signs in their eyes. Not one of them, however, has known Trump for as long or as well as I have—or was right there in the room when much of this occurred.
So hold on tight now. That’s what this book is for.
I still talk to Donald. We respect each other’s skills, though some in his world sought to drive a wedge between us. I’ll get to all that. But to understand my unique kinship with the president, you first have to understand where I came from: a cramped apartment on the west side of Newark and the leafy lawns of Livingston, where I soaked up the Jersey version of the suburban American dream. Pushed by strong women who kept telling me, “You can do anything, Christopher, if you work hard enough.” And so I did. Learning to lead in high school and college. Catching baseballs and the political bug. Finding my soul mate early and starting a family with her. Running for small offices, then larger ones. From the rough-and-tumble of Jersey politics, learning how to get in peoples’ faces, always prepared to challenge them. Aiming higher than I had any right to. Becoming a US Attorney after 9/11 and sending criminals off to prison, and then serving as governor of my beloved state. Twice. Cutting taxes. Fighting unions. Telling the loudmouths, “Sit down and shut up!” Warning my fellow citizens in the path of danger to “get the hell off the beach!” Healing Jersey from Superstorm Sandy, always in the same blue fleece. Being stymied by bridge traffic and losing the benefit of the doubt. Running for president.
And there stood Donald Trump. Fearless Donald. Disruptive Donald. Upending the process. Breaking the rules. Decimating the competition. Doing it his way, whatever it was. Build the wall. Drain the swamp. Collusion? What collusion? Fake news media!
I got in early, and I spoke up loudly. I worked hard, and I never forgot where I came from. And I’m still ready for more. Let me finish. I’m not finished. I’m not even close.
In my earliest conscious memory, I am crying my eyes out.
It is two days before my fifth birthday, September 4, 1967. I am in the car, my parents’ big, blue Buick, sitting by myself on the broad backseat. My mother is driving through Livingston, New Jersey, past comfortable suburban houses and the township’s last remaining farms. She is delivering me to the redbrick Squiretown School for my first day of kindergarten. I desperately do not want to go. I am happy with my life the way it is. I like spending all day with my mother and little brother, Todd, and hanging out with my father when he gets home from work.
All of a sudden, I’ve got to go—where? For what? My mom is trying to convince me what a grand adventure lies ahead.
“You’re going to make friends,” she’s saying through my confusion and my tears. “You’re going to have fun.” And I’m not buying any of it.
Soon my mother is opening the car door, taking my hand, walking me into the building and finding my teacher, whose name is Mrs. Lukemire. Mrs. Lukemire walks me away from my mother and immediately picks up her argument, as if the two women have just spent the morning comparing talking points. “Oh, Chris, you’re going to have a great time here,” the teacher says. “We’re going to have so much fun.” By then, my mother has beat feet out of there.
It turned out, of course, that my mother and Mrs. Lukemire were right. I came to love school: the academics, the athletics, the friendships, and all the rest of it. I just hadn’t been convinced yet. My whole life, I have never been shy about expressing my feelings, and I saw no reason to start on that day. If something is in my head or in my heart, it will be on my lips in a hurry for everyone to hear, whether I am kicking and screaming in my parents’ Buick or standing up to a privileged whiner at a packed town hall illuminated by TV lights. I’ve always been that way. I can’t imagine ever changing. “There will be no deathbed confessions in this family,” my mother used to say, and there never were.
Though I remember nothing before that first day of kindergarten, I have heard stories and seen photos, and I can recite some pertinent details. I was born Christopher James Christie in Newark, New Jersey, on September 6, 1962, the first child of Wilbur Christie and Sondra Grasso Christie, Bill and Sandy to their friends and relatives. My parents had been married for fifteen months when I came along. We started out in a two-bedroom apartment on Newark’s South Orange Avenue and Fourteenth Street, across from West Side High School, my mother’s alma mater. My younger brother, Todd, arrived just after my second birthday.
By the mid-1960s, Newark was really on the edge. Crime was rising. Racial tension was growing. White families like ours were moving to the suburbs. My parents were Newarkers. They didn’t want to go. But my father was convinced that the schools were better in the suburbs. He found a three-bedroom, one-bath ranch house at 327 West Northfield Road in Livingston, still in Essex County but eighteen miles to the west. It might as well have been a million, as far as my mother was concerned. “You’re taking me to the sticks,” she griped to my father.
They borrowed $1,000 from each of their mothers and put the other $20,000 on a thirty-year GI mortgage. In June 1966, a year ahead of the Newark riots, the Christie family joined the great American migration to the suburbs. But the story of our family didn’t start with my parents, my brother, and me. We were just the latest chapter in a long-running journey begun by my parents’ parents and their parents and God-knows-how-many generations before them, all trying to make their way in a large and unpredictable world.
I never met my father’s father. Jim Christie was a hard-charging Irish American factory worker from Newark who bounced from plant to plant—there were hundreds in those days—and smoked two packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes a day. The son of an alcoholic, he dropped out before starting high school to help support his five siblings and his mother. He was a good man who got the short end of the stick and never complained once. He died of esophageal cancer at fifty-four when my father was twenty. My father’s mother, Caroline Winter Christie, came from a German family and lived to be ninety-nine. Grandma was a very difficult woman, almost impossible to get close to. Selfish. Ornery. Quick with a cutting insult, especially for people she supposedly loved. After her husband died, she married a wonderful man named John Pfaff, who had recently lost his wife to cancer.
My mother’s people, the Grassos and the Scavones, came originally from Sicily. Her mother, Anne Scavone Grasso, was born in America. But my grandfather, Philip Joseph Grasso, was not—not quite. His mother was pregnant when she and her husband prepared to set sail from Sicily. In those days, when you bought your ticket to America, you did not wait to leave. The danger of a birth on the open Atlantic was a risk the Grassos were willing to take. Fear had no place in this family, even back then.
So, my grandfather arrived somewhere at sea. Years later, my mother would tease him about this. “You’re not American,” she’d say. “You’re not Sicilian. You were born in the middle of the ocean.” He didn’t think that was funny at all. “I’m an American,” he’d stammer. “They made me an American when I came to Ellis Island.” He was hugely proud of his adopted home.
My mother’s sea-born father—we called him Poppy—grew up to do many jobs, settling finally on being a bus driver in Newark. His marriage to my grandmother—Nani to us—was arranged by their parents. The young couple had barely met before their wedding day. They had three children in a hurry. My mother, Sandy, was first. Then came her younger sister, Minette, and their little brother, Philip Joseph Jr. But things got complicated quickly. My grandfather had a girlfriend. Back in those days, the way my grandmother told the story, Sicilian wives were expected to tolerate such arrangements without complaint. But when my grandmother discovered her husband’s girlfriend, Nani was not in an understanding mood. She ended the marriage immediately. This took incredible strength of character for a woman like her in the early 1940s. My grandmother was thirty-three years old with no education beyond middle school. Her oldest child, my mother, was ten. Nani was truly on her own.
Nani found a job at the IRS office in Bloomfield, two hours and three bus rides from home. Every morning, my mother prepared lunches for her brother and sister and dropped the younger ones at day care before she headed off to school. There was so little money, my mother got the same doll for Christmas three years in a row, just so she’d have something to unwrap beneath the tree. My grandfather remained a presence in his children’s lives, though he never so much as paid an electric bill.
And so, a pattern was set. My mother had a horrible first marriage of her own. Fresh out of West Side High, she wed a man named Alphonse Nesta. Al was seven years older than my mom, the father figure she never had. What she didn’t discover until after her wedding day was that Al was an out-of-control alcoholic and a violent one. He beat my mother badly. When Poppy paid a visit one day to the couple’s apartment on Arch Street in Bloomfield, he saw the condition his daughter was in. He and one of his brothers went looking for Al. The way the story’s been told, it didn’t end well for Al. There were some things the women in my family simply would not tolerate.
"Part autobiography and part firsthand accounting of a presidency, the book...paints Mr. Trump as a phenom who was obviously effective as a candidate--but who has relied on the wrong people and has been ill-served by many advisers, including some members of his family.... Mr. Christie [has] lifted the curtain on some of the most explosive moments of the campaign."
—Maggie Haberman, The New York Times
- "Explosive.... Exceptional as a chronicle of the score-settling and animosity that drove key decision-making in Trump's nascent presidency."—The Guardian
"The former New Jersey governor delivers plenty of jabs at political enemies.... But beneath all the record-correcting and score-settling... he offers a defense of the hyper-confrontational style that first made him famous, and later helped make Trump president."
—McKay Coppins, The Atlantic
- "[A] fantastic book."—Stephen Colbert, "The Late Show"
"Stunning...intriguing.... Christie's history with the campaign means that when he talks about Trump and those around him--as he does in... Let Me Finish--we should all listen..."
—CNN "The Point with Chris Cillizza"
- "Candid."—ABC "This Week"
- "Go get [Let Me Finish], you will not regret it. If you like this show, you'll like the stories he tells."—Brian Kilmeade, FOX News' "The Brian Kilmeade" show
"[Let Me Finish] tells quite a story."
—Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC
"Not to miss."
- "A fascinating book."—Trevor Noah, "The Daily Show"
- "If you've been missing the force of Chris Christie's personality since he returned to private life last year, you can now get your fix at full blast from his autobiography, Let Me Finish...a big, loud book."—NPR Book Review
- "News-making stories.... A shrewd and strategic book.... Christie defends his decisions with the gritty realism of the political professional."—David Frum, The Atlantic
- "Juicy, inside-the-campaign tales."—The Daily Beast
- "A must-read. Really, it's the best of its kind, at least the equal of any political memoir I've read.... Let Me Finish is a terrific work ... candidly honest .... Funny."—Hugh Hewitt, "The Hugh Hewitt Show"
- "That rarest of books penned by a politician: one worth reading."—The Star-Ledger
- "Plenty of juicy Jersey details."—North Jersey News
- On Sale
- Jan 28, 2020
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Hachette Books