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Christie breaks with Trump on immigration order

Gov. Christie says the Trump administration botched the rollout of the president’s executive order restricting immigration to the United States and suggested he disagreed with the White House’s approach to fighting terrorism.

Gov. Christie on Tuesday said that the Trump administration botched the rollout of the president's executive order restricting immigration to the United States and suggested that he disagreed with the White House's approach to fighting terrorism.

President Trump's "intention" to "protect our country from terrorist attacks" is right, Christie told reporters. But, he added, "I've always believed you need to make those decisions based upon intelligence, not generalizations."

Christie, who endorsed Trump after suspending his own presidential campaign last February, said the rollout of the order was "terrible," citing mass confusion at airports over the weekend and the detention of permanent residents with green cards.

"The president deserved much better," Christie said, suggesting staff was to blame for "unacceptable" mistakes.

Trump's order, signed Friday, banned refugees across the world from entering the U.S. for 120 days; indefinitely suspended admission to Syrian refugees; and blocked immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.

Christie said he did not think New Jersey would join other states that are seeking to block Trump's order, though the governor said he would defer to Attorney General Christopher Porrino.

Although Christie acknowledged that the Republican administration had made mistakes, he went after Democrats, too, saying that "some of the knee-jerk reaction" has been "a little bit shameful, too."

Christie delivered his remarks during an unrelated news conference Tuesday at an addiction treatment center in Newark, where the governor announced that the state would increase the number of beds for behavioral health and substance abuse treatment by 40 percent.

Also Tuesday, a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Christie's approval rating has ticked down another notch, dropping to 17 percent.

Christie's rating in the poll matches the previous known low for a New Jersey governor. Democrat Brendan T. Byrne had a 17 percent approval rating in the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in 1977 after signing the state income tax into law.

Until Tuesday, the governor had not taken questions from the Statehouse press corps since September, when the criminal trial of two former aides involved in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal began.

The aides — Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, Christie's former top executive appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — were each found guilty in November on seven felony counts, including conspiring to intentionally misuse the port's resources.

They have vowed to appeal.

Prosecutors accused Kelly, Baroni, and former port official David Wildstein of jamming traffic at the bridge in September 2013 to punish a local mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's reelection campaign that year. Wildstein pleaded guilty in 2015.

Christie said Tuesday that he was "not going to get into every specific loony thing that was said at that trial that you all breathlessly reported as truth."

For the first time since the trial, however, he answered a question about an apparent discrepancy between a statement he made in the aftermath of the 2013 lane closures and trial testimony from some of his advisers.

For example, at a Dec. 13, 2013, news conference in Trenton, Christie was asked if he was certain that neither his staff nor his campaign chief, Bill Stepien, acted on his behalf to close lanes for "political retribution."

"Yeah, I have absolutely no reason to believe that," Christie said at the time, adding that he had made clear to his senior staff that "if anyone had any knowledge about this, that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it, and they've all assured me that they don't."

At trial, multiple aides who were not charged in the case appeared to contradict Christie's statement.

Mike DuHaime, Christie's chief political strategist, testified that two days before the news conference, he informed the governor that port official Wildstein had told him that Kelly and Stepien had prior knowledge of the September lane closures.

"And you know [Christie] made a statement that seemed to be, at least, inconsistent with the information you gave him?" Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley Sr., asked DuHaime at trial.

"That's correct," DuHaime replied.

On Tuesday, Christie said he learned about the lane closures in October, when he read a report in the Wall Street Journal. "So Mike DuHaime calling me" in December "and saying to me [Kelly and Stepien] knew about a traffic study, too — what was that telling me, that they read the newspaper also?"

The difference is that DuHaime testified about Kelly's and Stepien's prior knowledge of the lane closures, not something they read about after the fact.

Stepien was not charged in the case and has denied wrongdoing. He is now Trump's political director.

For his part, Christie, who was released as Trump's transition chairman in November, played down any suggestion that he had lost the president's trust.

"The president and I have a great relationship," Christie said.