Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Sunday he has no interest in running for a New Jersey Senate after Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted last week for allegedly taking bribes in cash and gold.
Menendez, who stepped down from his influential position as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee but vowed to stay in the Senate as he fights the charges, is up for reelection next year.
“I have no interest in being in the United States Senate,” Christie said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “I had a chance to appoint myself to the United States Senate in 2013 when [five-term New Jersey Sen.] Frank Lautenberg passed away, and I was governor. If I didn't appoint myself to the United States Senate, the easiest way to get there, I sure as heck am not going to run for it.”
A former federal prosecutor, Christie joined the legions of New Jersey elected officials in denouncing Menendez. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and most of the state’s congressional delegation have called on the three-term senator to resign.
“I did this for seven years as the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, the fifth largest office in the country. We did 130 corruption cases and never were defeated. So I know a bit about this,” Christie said. “There is no way that any public official has any legal or plausible or ethical explanation for having $500,000 of cash stuffed in jackets and envelopes throughout their home, gold bars that have the fingerprints and DNA of someone who you were attempting to fix the system for.”
Menendez is accused of accepting cash and gold bars, among other gifts, in exchange for using his position atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to drive U.S. policy in favor of Egypt and give favors to businessmen. His wife, Nadine, and three New Jersey businessmen were also charged.
Nearly $500,000 in cash and around $150,000 in gold bars were found at the Menendezes’ home during an FBI raid. Some of the cash had the DNA of one of the businessmen on it, according to prosecutors.
In a statement after the indictment, Menendez said he was innocent and that the prosecution was part of a smear campaign by "forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave."
Menendez went to trial in 2017 on federal charges of bribery unrelated to last week’s indictment, but the Department of Justice dropped the case in 2018 after a jury was unable to reach a verdict.
Christie served as governor of the Garden State for two terms, until 2018. In 2016, he ran for president before becoming an early endorser of Donald Trump and served as an outside adviser to the president during his years in the White House. He has since denounced Trump and is running to beat him, turning a critic in response to the 2024 GOP presidential primary frontrunner’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.
“I supported him in 2016 because he was going to be the nominee and because I didn't want Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States. And I make no apologies for that,” Christie said on Sunday. “But I broke from the president very clearly, from President Trump, on election night 2020. When you stand before the American people, behind the seal of the president in the East Room of White House to say the election has been stolen when it wasn't -- and there's no evidence to prove that it's stolen now nearly three years later -- that to me was a disqualifying moment for Donald Trump.”
Nationally, Christie is polling in sixth place in the Republican presidential primary and around 3% on average, according to the polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight. But on Sunday, Christie had his eye not on New Jersey, but another Northeast state: New Hampshire, which votes second in the GOP’s primary calendar. A strong performance there, Christie argued, could help propel him to further success down the road. Recent polls in the state have him hovering around 10%, good enough for third place in some cases.
“I’m telling you, if I beat Donald Trump in New Hampshire, and I plan to do so, that his sense of invincibility, his sense of inevitability will go away,” Christie said on NBC. “Momentum is everything in this race, and I’ll establish it in New Hampshire.”