Chris Christie says Donald Trump is not a racist

MENDHAM, N.J. (AP) — 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.

"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."

Trump said that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel cannot judge him fairly in lawsuits against Trump University because he is of Mexican heritage and Trump has pledged to build a wall with Mexico.

Christie said that he has been friends with Trump for 14 years and he is "not a racist," and that the reaction to Trump's comments bothers him. He said the media is paying too much attention to what he described as a "kerfuffle."

Christie's comments came after Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that Trump's comments are "the textbook definition of racist comments." But Ryan said he will still support Trump because his own agenda is more likely to get enacted under Trump than Democrat Hillary Clinton. Many other Republicans have scolded Trump over the comments and demanded that he apologize.

Democratic New Jersey U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a Clinton supporter, said in a speech on the floor of the Senate Tuesday that "anyone who won't stand up and call this blatant racism has decided to put partisan politics ahead of our country."

"This is how a new McCarthyism comes to America, sold by a reality TV show host, aided and abetted by a political party without the courage to stand up to racism in its most cynical form," Menendez said.

In 2011, Christie strongly stood by the nomination of a Muslim judge for a state judgeship after facing attacks from conservatives who said Christie was putting New Jersey on the path to Sharia law. "It's just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background," Christie said then in his defense, saying he was "tired of dealing with the crazies."

Christie said his defense of Sohail Mohammed were about specific things about someone that he knew personally.

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.