Chris Christie defends Tom Brady

Washington CNN  — 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie thinks the New York Jets should return any money they were paid to salute members of the military, he said during a Tuesday interview on CNN.

“If the money was paid to the Jets just for saluting the troops, they should give the money back, because we should be saluting the troops because of what they do for our country,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview for “The Lead.”

RELATED: Harry Reid slams NFL for focusing on ‘Deflategate’

The Star-Ledger reported, and the Pentagon has confirmed, that the Defense Department and the New Jersey Guard paid the Jets $377,000 over three years for players to salute members of the military and for other advertising. Overall, the Defense Department paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million in similar programs.

Christie hedged, saying that if the teams were paid “for some other advertisement or something else that I don’t know about, then that’s a decision for the government to make.”

“But If we’re actually paying the New York Jets franchise for saluting the troops, then that would be very disappointing,” he said.

He had somewhat more sympathy for New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, who was suspended for four games without pay by the NFL this week for his team’s alleged use of underinflated footballs during the playoffs. He said the four-game penalty was an “overreaction” in response to criticism that the NFL had been too soft on players in the past, and suggested that the punishment was so severe in part because of Brady’s accomplishments.

“I think it has to do with the fact that (Brady’s) wealthy and handsome and famous and successful, and I think people like to take shots at people like that,” he said. And so … from my view, I think the punishment is too harsh.”