TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Friday that David Samson, a powerful appointee of the governor’s at the Port Authority, has resigned. Christie said Samson believed the Port Authority deserved new leadership and a fresh start after an internal report found problems with the organization.
During a press conference here, Christie said that Samson “completely supports the recommendations laid out [in the report] for the Port Authority and he believes the best way to start the new year” is with a new person in charge.
“I spoke with General Samson on Jan. 8 and asked him what he knew about this, if he had any involvement in it, if he authorized it, or had anything to do with the panning of it or anything else. He said absolutely not,” Christie said.
Bridget Anne Kelly, the fired staffer behind the now-infamous emails that exposed the scandal, broke her public silence after the news conference and in a statement through her lawyer made clear that she would cooperate with federal investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
“The only credible investigation into the lane closings is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Kelly’s attorneys wrote, adding that if she were protected, “she will be fully cooperative and provide truthful and complete answers to any questions asked of her by the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”
She also complained that Christie’s internal inquiry painted a “venomous, gratuitous, and inappropriate sexist” portrait of her. “She is a single mother of four children who has deeply devoted and committed to her job at the office of the governor,” Kelly’s attorneys said.
Meanwhile, Christie is clearly trying to capitalize on the internal investigation, which he commissioned, after it declared him innocent of any wrongdoing related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. The governor on Friday held his first news conference since the epic, two-hour Jan. 9 presser in which the Republican said he was “embarrassed and humiliated” upon learning about the conduct of some of his staffers who allegedly planned the politically motivated scheme.
Democrats have largely dismissed the Christie-commissioned internal review by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm that has known ties to the governor. They also point to the fact that Christie’s lawyers were unable to interview three key people at the center of the scandal: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein, Kelly and the governor’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien. Samson was also not interviewed.
In his press conference Friday, Christie said that Samson, 74, had talked to him a year ago about wanting to leave the Port Authority.
“Over the past months, I have shared with the governor my desire to conclude my service to the PANYNJ,” Samson said in a statement. “The timing is now right, and I am confident that the governor will put new leadership in place to address the many challenges ahead.”
The governor – who once led the pack in the nascent race to be the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2016 – has largely avoided the media since the scandal unfolded. Instead he’s chosen to hold town hall meetings with residents and to raise money in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Christie’s first televised interview since the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal aired on Thursday after the internal review was made public. He told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that what his aides did was “inexplicably stupid” and that “It makes me feel taken advantage of. More importantly, I feel like I let people down.”
The review does not offer a clear motive as to why Kelly and Wildstein ordered the lane closures. Randy Mastro, the lawyer leading the team who conducted the review, said it was “at least in part” an effort to exact political revenge against Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
Christie’s administration is still being investigated by a state legislative panel and by the U.S. attorney’s office.
When asked if the findings of the internal review were biased, Christie said no. “These people have their own personal and professional reputations,” he said. “They’re not going to whitewash anything for me.” The review involved more than 70 interviews and more than 250,000 documents. It cost more than $1 million in legal fees paid for by Garden State taxpayers.
At the news conference on Friday, Christie is likely to face questions about a serious claim in the internal review: that Wildstein said he mentioned the lane closures to Christie at a 9/11 memorial last year, despite the governor’s repeated claims that he had no idea of the plot.
Christie told Sawyer about the claim: “David was one of hundreds of people I spoke to that day. What he didn’t say was: ‘Hey, governor. I’m closing down lanes at the George Washington Bridge to stick it to some mayor.’ I would have remembered that.”
There are several other questions that remain unanswered, including why Kelly decided to send her now-infamous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Details are still murky surrounding a meeting that was scheduled between Christie and Port Authority Chairman David Samson in the weeks leading up to the September lane closures. Many called for Samson’s resignation following e-mails that were made public showing Samson was consulted by those who were involved in the traffic jams. Wildstein even wrote to a Christie aide after the lanes were reopened: “We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate.” But Christie has maintained Samson had “absolutely no knowledge of this.”
In continuing his media blitz, the governor has agreed to be interviewed by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. The Q&A will air Friday night.