NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday would not criticize Donald Trump’s comments about an American-born federal judge of Mexican heritage and said that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is not a racist.
“I know Donald Trump, I’ve known him for 14 years, and Donald Trump is not a racist,” Christie said Tuesday after House Speaker Paul Ryan said that Trump made the “textbook definition of a racist comment” in saying an American-born judge isn’t qualified to preside over a case because of his Mexican heritage.
Trump has contended that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel can’t judge him fairly because the judge is of Mexican heritage and Trump wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, which he says puts Curiel in conflict with the lawsuits.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump said his comments about Curiel were “misconstrued.”
“It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage. I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent,” Trump said. “The American justice system relies on fair and impartial judges. All judges should be held to that standard. I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.”
Ryan said that the “mature and responsible thing” would be for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to disavow the comments about the judge, who is presiding over a case alleging that Trump University fleeced students.
“I regret those comments he made. Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan said at a news conference. “I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Trump has been questioned repeatedly about his stance but has refused to retract his comments. On Monday, he insisted he’s only defending himself against relentless questions about the lawsuits.
Ryan, who endorsed Trump only last week after a lengthy delay, went on to say: “But do I believe Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.”
“I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day, and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him than we do with her,” Ryan said. “But I do absolutely disavow those comments, I think they’re wrong, I think they’re wrongheaded, and the thinking behind it is something I don’t even personally relate to.”
Christie said the reaction to Trump’s comments bothers him and that the media is paying too much attention to what he described as a “kerfuffle.”
“Those are Donald’s opinions and he has the right to express them, the same way anybody else has the right to express their views regarding how they’re treated in the civil or criminal courts in this country,” Christie told reporters after voting in his hometown of Mendham Township. “That’s part of what free speech is about.”
Christie voted Tuesday with his son Andrew, both of whom are delegates for Trump in New Jersey. Trump has picked Christie to manage his transition team if Trump gets elected in November.
Other Republicans have also spoken out about Trump’s comments including former GOP presidential candidate John Kasich, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Bob Corker and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Trump University is the target of two lawsuits in San Diego and New York. Trump has maintained that customers were overwhelmingly satisfied. Trump’s legal team has not sought to have Curiel removed.
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