New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) made headlines on Monday when he said it was “probably illegal” to receive opposition research from a foreign government.
That, of course, was exactly what Donald Trump Jr. did when he agreed to meet with a Russia lawyer who had “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
But in an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday, the former Trump campaign adviser said he wasn’t convinced that Trump Jr. had broken the law after all.
For one thing, Christie isn’t sure Trump Jr. had received or solicited opposition research from the Russian government. Christie reasoned that Rod Goldstone, the intermediary who sent Trump Jr. emails setting up the meeting, was just a music producer and may have been making things up.
But Goldstone was a music producer representing Emin Agalarov, the son of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, who maintains a relationship with Vladimir Putin. One of Agalarov’s employees — who happened to have a history of alleged Russian money laundering — attended the meeting at Aglarov’s request.
Christie also argued that Trump Jr. isn’t sophisticated enough to know what he was doing.
“The recipient of the information — Donald Trump Jr., who I know very well — is by no means a sophisticated political actor. This is a guy who loves his father and got involved in politics because his father got involved,” Christie said.
“You are saying Don [Trump Jr.] is not smart,” host Nicole Wallace said.
“He is not sophisticated in this stuff,” Christie replied. He repeated the claim three times in the course of the interview.
Trump Jr. is a 39-year-old man who President Trump entrusted to run his entire business empire. He received an email that said, in plain English, that the Russian government had information that could damage Hillary. He then enthusiastically agreed to a meeting.
Christie glossed over the fact that Paul Manafort, a veteran political operative who worked extensively in Eastern Europe and was Trump’s campaign chairman in June 2016, also attended the meeting and received the entire email chain.
“I don’t know whether they read the whole e-mail or considered everything. I will say to you, I was around the campaign a lot, and especially at that time. It was extraordinarily hectic,” Christie said. He made a similar argument in defense of Jared Kushner who also attended the meeting.
Later, Christie provided another out for Trump Jr. and the rest of the campaign team.
“Collusion in and of itself is not a crime. Receiving information from a foreign government that is of value could be a crime,” Christie argued.
He said that he’s sure that special prosecutor Bob Mueller is exploring all the issues.