Christie: Muslims celebrating 9/11 in NJ ‘didn’t happen’
He didn't quite say it a week ago, but he's saying it now: Chris Christie told reporters Monday Donald Trump's claim of "thousands" of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey streets on 9/11 "didn't happen."
"Definitively, I've said this a number of times: It didn't happen," Christie said Portsmouth, N.H., according to a report by NJ Advance Media.
It seems a far more powerful rejection of Trump's claim than Christie offered a week earlier, when asked about it by reporters. At the time, he'd said “I think if it had happened I would remember it, but there could be things I forget too."
According to the NJ Advance Media report, Christie said Monday his earlier phrasing "wasn't me trying to hedge anything. It was me telling you the truth: I don't remember it happening. Which means, and I said I think even that day — if it had happened, I'm pretty sure I'd remember it."
"The fact is, people can say whatever they like," Christie said, according to the report. "But the facts are the facts, and that did not happen in New Jersey that day, and it hasn't happened since."
Christie's new (or reasserted) rejection of Trump's claim comes the same day Trump offered his first truly pointed criticism of Christie of the campaign season — after months of the two going easy on each other, and describing each other as friends.
Trump first made his comments about celebrations earlier this month in Birmingham, Ala., while arguing for surveillance of “certain mosques” and saying he would “absolutely take” a database of Syrian refugees coming into America “if we can’t stop it, but we’re going to.”
“Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” Trump said. “And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering. So something’s going on. We’ve got to find out what it is.”
He later said he'd seen the celebrations on television.
In a series of Tweets that same weekend, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop called the claim “absurd” and said his city “doesn’t want to be part of the @realDonaldTrump hate campaign — we aren’t about that.”
The claims have been roundly denied by several other officials and by media fact-checks.
Similar rumors have persisted online for years in nearby Paterson, but Paterson's police director has told New Jersey 101.5 police have no records of any such celebrations being reported to them, and vehemently denies any celebrations took place.
A Sept. 18, 2001 Washington Post report said some people were detained and questioned after they were “allegedly" seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops" during the attacks, but the Associated Press reported a day earlier those allegations were determined to be unfounded.
Trump has pointed to that report as proof his claim is true — though it didn't describe celebrations of anything like the scale he'd described, and though the reporter recently has said as much. He later came under criticism for seeming to mock the reporter's disability in response.
Then-Attorney General John Farmer, who is now a law professor at Rutgers School of Law in Newark and who served as senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, told NJ Advance Media last week authorities looked into reports of large celebrations immediately — and found them to be unfounded.
“If it had been going on — especially in the thousands — we would have locked that place down. Because it would have been a serious threat to public safety," he said, according to the report.
Hundreds of people have taken to New Jersey 101.5's Facebook page — and have called into its shows — to say they're sure celebrations took place. Of those, a few described seeing celebrations in Jersey City, Paterson or elsewhere themselves. Others attributed their information to people they trust or said they saw celebrations on television at the time — though no such televised reports have surfaced.
However, unconfirmed reports of celebrations were mentioned in television reports and in newspapers in the days after 9/11 — though denied by officials then, as well.
"There has been no jubilee in the streets. There hasn't been, you know, anybody out in the neighborhoods having fun or thinking this was a great or glorious idea," then-Paterson Mayor Marty Barnes was seen saying in TV footage at the time.
Last week, MTV News aired a report revisiting its own news story from shortly after 9/11. In the original 2001 report, Paterson resident Emily Acevedo said she saw "a lot of people, and they were just chanting and raving, and I noticed they were holding things. They were holding, like, rocks and sticks. And they were saying, 'Burn America.'"
She went on in the 2001 report to say the group had been of teenagers. She said some of the teens were on Main Street, banging sticks and stones against railings and leaving chip marks.
"Everyone that was out there, they were only 13, maybe 14 at the most. They were kids. They didn't know what they were doing. But they had so much hate, and they were doing that. It was just so sad," Acevedo said.
In a new interview with MTV, Acevedo said it was "just a bunch of kids acting out — they don't know any better."