Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recalls in his new memoir watching the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape alongside then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump ahead of its public release in 2016, writing that the tape sent his top-ranking campaign staff scrambling to devise a response.
The 2005 tape, first reported by The Washington Post in October 2016, caught Trump in a hot mic moment while being interviewed by the show “Access Hollywood.” Trump, on the tape, bragged that he could grope women because of his celebrity status and that sometimes he would “just start kissing them.”
“The tape was hard to watch. It was harder to listen to. But we watched and listened to the ‘Access Hollywood’ video all the way to the end. The words sounded crude and vulgar playing through the small speaker on Hope Hicks’s laptop, even more so with Donald sitting there with us,” Christie wrote in his book, “Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics.”
Christie said the team got the sense that the tape would be released about an hour from the time they started watching it “and that time was already flying by.”
Familiar faces on the Trump campaign team, including Jared Kushner, Rudy Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, then began brainstorming a response strategy in anticipation of the tape’s imminent release. The team, according to Christie, squabbled over whether to say “if anyone was offended.”
Christie wrote: “People started proposing phrases to quote Trump as saying: ‘Many years ago.’ ‘Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course.’ ‘I apologize if anyone was offended.’ “
But Christie said that he agreed with Conway and Giuliani. There was no “if.” People were offended. Kushner and Bannon argued otherwise and Trump sided with the pair.
According to Christie, it was Trump who “offered the best” line for the response: “locker room talk.”
The former Trump transition team head wrote that following the screening of the tape, “Donald went upstairs to talk to Melania. That was a meeting I had no interest in attending.”
Later that evening Trump’s deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, called Christie to listen to audio of a taped statement with Trump that would be released later that evening.
” ‘I like the first half where you apologize,’ I told Donald when he came on the line. ‘But I don’t like the second half where you attack the Clintons. Let’s save attacking the Clintons for later. Let’s just get the apology out there now,’ ” Christie wrote.
He added that “Donald still wasn’t buying my argument.” Trump still wanted to do the whole statement.
Christie said, “It wasn’t until after midnight when I actually saw the video on CNN that I realized how bizarre it was. It had a faux nighttime New York skyline behind him. He was talking stiffly to the camera. It was awful. It looked like a hostage video.”
Trump would ultimately decide to say the full statement, Clinton attacks and all.
“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” Trump said in his apology video.
Ex-Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus called Christie the next morning saying: “Everyone wants him to drop out.”
Looking worn out, by Christie’s account, the Trump campaign team assembled the next day at Trump Tower to assess the damage.
According to Christie, Priebus told Trump: “Either you drop out – or you will suffer the greatest defeat in American presidential-electoral history, and you’ll take the party down with you.”
Trump “waved off Priebus” and asked the rest of his campaign team, “Do you think I need to drop out?”
“Everyone else said no,” Christie writes.