WASHINGTON — Gov. Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney, said a special prosecutor isn’t needed to probe ties between President Donald Trump and Russia.

Christie, speaking Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the U.S. Justice Department and House and Senate intelligence committees are perfectly capable of investigating possible improper contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

“When a special prosecutor gets involved, the thing gets completely out of control,” Christie said.

Can Trump be forced to release returns?

Christie had called for a special prosecutor to investigate the Clinton Foundation last August saying that “our system of justice deserves nothing less.”

This time he decried what he called Democratic “overreach” in demanding an outside probe.

“What we should do here is take a deep breath and be able to look into these matters in a way that the American public will think has integrity to it,” he said.

But Democrats are not the only ones seeking a special prosecutor because Attorney General Jeff Sessions was an early supporter of Trump during the campaign.

“You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine — Jeff Sessions — who was on the campaign and who was an appointee,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif). said last week on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” “You’re going to need to use the special prosecutor’s statute and office.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed efforts to try to tilt the American presidential election in Trump’s favor.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.) has led congressional efforts to force Trump to release income tax returns that would reveal whether the president has any financial ties to Russia. Trump is the only presidential candidate in decades to refuse to release his returns.

The latest development came last week when CNN reported that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to publicly repudiate reports that intelligence agencies had discovered contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

Christie said Priebus was wrong to have made the request.

“I don’t think that Reince thought he was doing anything wrong,” Christie said on CNN. “I have absolute confidence in his integrity. But you need to have the sensibility of a prosecutor with your dealing with these issues because perception matters.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the investigations will turn up nothing.

“They’re all going to come to the same conclusion that we had no involvement in this,” Sanders said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

The allegations involving Russia were just one more controversy plaguing Trump, who had a record-low approval rating in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Sunday.

Just 44 percent of U.S. adults approved of Trump’s first month in office, lower than any newly inaugurated U.S. chief executive in decades, while 48 percent disapproved.

While Trump had a net negative rating of 4 percentage points, his immediate predecessors, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, all had positive job approval ratings ranging from 34 percentage points to 45 percentage points.

The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Feb. 18-22 and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. 

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant or on Facebook. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

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