New Jersey governor Chris Christie directly challenged an account from presidential rival Donald Trump that "thousands" of Muslims in the Garden State cheered on the day of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Thousands of people did not cheer in Jersey City on 9/11. It just didn’t happen. I was there that day. Nothing like that was ever shown on the news. There’s no video of that. It didn’t happen," Christie told THE WEEKLY STANDARD Tuesday. "As I understand it, he says he saw it on the news. It didn’t happen!"
Christie had previously said Sunday he did not recall the incident Trump has recently described. At a rally last week, Trump said "thousands and thousands of people were cheering" in Jersey City as the World Trade Center buildings across the Hudson River in lower Manhattan. There were no reports of such a large celebration, although the Washington Post did report on September 18, 2001, that law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river." There have also been reports that in Paterson, about 20 miles northwest of Jersey City, a small group of teenagers of Arab descent celebrated in the streets.
But Christie says any celebrations in his state weren't documented on video and were much smaller—"a small number of people, allegedly"—than Trump has claimed. "As I said Sunday, that was a very emotional, difficult day for me, so I can’t say I have perfect recollection of the day, except for the things that I was really concerned about that day, which was the safety of my wife and my brother," he said. "But if that had happened, thousands of people in New Jersey cheering, and I’d been named U.S. attorney the day before, I think I would have remembered."
Christie, who gave an address to the Council on Foreign Relations Tuesday afternoon, spoke about New Jersey's "large Muslim-American population," the second largest percentage-wise after Michigan, in defense of his position that more Syrian refugees should not be allowed into the U.S. until the vetting process is improved. President Obama has criticized governors opposed to allowing in refugees in the wake of the ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris, and leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has said blocking those refugees engenders distrust among Muslim-American communities and law enforcement.
"What I'll tell you is Muslim Americans are not nearly that sensitive," Christie responded. "Not nearly as sensitive as some of the people in opinion places here in Washington or in the White House believe they are. They're Muslim Americans, and they understand that the safety and security of their families are at risk, just the way the safety and security of Catholics are at risk, Protestants are at risk, Buddhists are at risk, when the American homeland is not safe and not secure."
Christie also criticized Clinton's unwillingness to refer to "radical Islamic terrorism" and called on leaders to stop using "euphemisms" to describe the threat. "She thinks, somehow, that this will be insulting to the rest of the Muslim world," he said. "I think it's clarifying. See, if you say you're going to war with radical Islamic terrorism, then by definition you're not going to war with the rest of Islam."