Christie confirms Trump campaign news before campaign
The Trump campaign took hours to confirm reports that it had added a new person to its senior staff, but New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie decided not wait for them.
"Mr. Trump's campaign has faith in him, they hired him," Christie,who also serves as head of Trump's transition team, told reporters at a news conference in Toms River, New Jersey.
He was referring to Bill Stepien, whom the New York Times and several other news outlets reported had been hired by the Trump campaign as a senior political staffer. A campaign official later confirmed the news to Bloomberg Politics, saying an announcement would be released soon.
Christie said he didn't consult with the campaign on the hire, even though his ties to Stepien stretch back for years. In January 2014, as the Bridgegate scandal raged, Christie removed Stepien as the New Jersey Republican Party chairmanship, famously saying he'd "lost confidence" in the operative.
On Friday, Christie, who was a finalist for the vice-presidential slot on Trump's ticket, was polite about the prospect of working on the same campaign as Stepien, though would say little more.
"I wish Bill the best of luck and I wish the campaign the best of luck going forward," Christie said while announcing a new round of Hurricane Sandy relief funding on Friday.
Stepien served as a deputy chief of staff in the governor's office in Trenton and later as campaign manager on a 2013 reelection effort that saw Christie capture a second term by a 22-percentage point margin, a boon to his White House hopes.
Stepien was later subpoenaed by state lawmakers in connection with the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal revolving around politically motivated lane closings at the George Washington Bridge in September of 2013, just as Christie's reelection campaign was in its final stretch. Stepien took the fifth and declined to hand over documents requested by a legislative panel probing the matter, which has resulted in one Christie ally pleading guilty and another two awaiting trial. Federal investigators didn't charge him with a crime connected to the scandal, which allegedly involved punishing a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse the governor for a second term.
In March 2014, Stepien's attorney Kevin Marino said U.S. agents probing the lane closings called Stepien and even went as far as interviewing his landlord with questions about "his conduct and character was he married, was he a rowdy tenant, did he pay his rent on time,” in legal papers the attorney made public. Earlier this month, lawyers for an ex-Christie aide under indictment said in a court filing that in December,as the governor denied that top staffers and Stepien were involved in Bridgegate, another former member of his administration accused him of lying.
“Are you listening?” aide Christina Renna texted a colleague, according to the filing. “He just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved.”
Stepien, who was once seen as a shoe-in to run Christie's presidential campaign, was a consultant to the Republican Governors’ Association when Christie served as chairman. This was during the 2014 election cycle, which saw Christie raise more than $100 million for the group a record and expand the number of governorships held by the party. On January 7, 2014, Christie appointed him as chairman of the state Republican Party, a post he was forced to abandon.