New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that "Donald Trump is not a racist," days after the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee came under fire for comments about an American-born judge's Mexican heritage.
Speaking after casting his vote in the New Jersey presidential and congressional primaries in his hometown of Mendham, Christie said Trump had the right to express himself regarding civil lawsuits filed against his eponymous university.
"Those are Donald’s opinions and he has the right to express them, the same way that anyone has the right to express any of their views regarding how they’re treated in the civil or criminal courts in this country," Christie said. "That's what free speech is all about."
Trump has said U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel — who was born in Indiana — can't be impartial in lawsuits against Trump University because Curiel's parents were born in Mexico and Trump wants to build a wall along the border.
Christie, a Republican, added that he didn't know Curiel or the specifics of the Trump University lawsuits. Speaking generally, he said Trump has told him in the past "there are things he's said that he shouldn't have said."
He said Tuesday that Trump isn't racist, and that "allegations that he is are absolutely contrary to every experience I've had with him over the last 14 years."
The New Jersey governor called the controversy over Trump's comments the "judge kerfuffle."
But those comments were blasted by politicians from both sides of the aisle —including several top Republicans who had endorsed Trump.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that Trump's assertions were "the textbook definition of racist comments" and that the "mature and responsible thing" would be for the presumptive nominee to retract them.
"I do absolutely disavow his comments; I think they're wrong," Ryan said, but added that "I'm going to be focusing on these ideas, these solutions, and not attempt to try and defend the indefensible."
Christie also bristled at comments made by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who told the New York Times that fellow Republicans should rescind their endorsements of Trump over his comments on Curiel. Graham ended his presidential bid in December.
"Lindsey Graham has changed his mind about who he's endorsing and not endorsing so many different times that it's hard for me to keep track," Christie said.
He added, "Lindsey's lost any credibility he's had. He should worry about going back to South Carolina and trying to rebuild his base in South Carolina or he won't be in the United States Senate for much longer."
Later Tuesday, Graham told NBC News it sounded like Christie was auditioning to be vice president. The senator said he won't be voting for Trump or presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and will instead write in a candidate when he votes for president in November.
Christie, who himself ran for president but dropped out of the race after the New Hampshire primary, was among the first major Republican figures to endorse Trump.
The two have said they are friends. Last month, Trump picked Christie to lead a team planning the billionaire businessman's transition to the White House should he win the general election.