March 28th, 2014
07:15 PM ET
4 years ago

Another key Christie ally leaves his job amid scandal

Trenton, New Jersey (CNN) - Another top ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has resigned amid a political scandal that has roiled the Republican's administration and clouded his potential presidential prospects.

Christie announced at a news conference Friday that David Samson, who chairs the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, stepped down earlier in the day, effective immediately.

Also see: Highlights from Chris Christie's news conference

"He's 74 years old. He's tired. He's served a long time," Christie said of Samson, a one-time state attorney general and a powerful private attorney.

The resignation is the latest fallout from the George Washington Bridge lane closures of last September that snarled traffic on the New Jersey side and led to allegations of political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie's reelection.

Christie faces press again

Facing reporters' questions for the first time in more than two months, Christie repeatedly cited a report he commissioned that this week cleared him of any role in the several days of traffic jams near that nation's busiest bridge.

Responding at times with his trademark gruffness, Christie also acknowledged the controversy had shaken his confidence due to alleged links of top aides and associates to the lane closures.

People he "trusted and relied on" let him down and therefore, his administration let down the state, Christie said, adding: "Of course that shakes your confidence."

Separate federal and state investigations continue, and the scandal has lowered Christie's poll numbers as he contemplates a possible presidential run in 2016.

He insisted Friday the current poll numbers don't matter and voters would be little concerned about the bridge controversy in two years.

However, Christie also tried to distance himself from the main figures in the scandal, including Bridget Kelly, his deputy chief of staff whom he fired in January, and David Wildstein, a New Jersey appointed executive at the Port Authority who has resigned.

Traffic study or political retribution?

While maintaining that a traffic study of some kind caused the gridlock, Christie said this week's report raised questions about "some type of nefarious or inappropriate motivation for it" on the part of Wildstein and Kelly.

Christie used his opening statement to announce the resignation of Samson, who had come under increasing pressure to step down because of the appearance of an inherent conflict of interest.

Samson served as chairman of the board of commissioners - a part-time oversight position for which he received no compensation - while the law firm he founded represents several clients who do business with the Port Authority.

A Christie appointee, Samson previously said he recused himself from board votes when they involved business with clients of that firm.

While not accused of any wrongdoing, Samson has been subpoenaed by a legislative panel to turn over documents as part of its investigation into the traffic mess.

Last month, he issued an apology as chairman of the Port Authority board for the inconvenience caused by the traffic gridlock over five days in September.

An interim chairman would get chosen from the current commissioners, Christie said, and he would then seek a permanent replacement.

He also said he accepted the recommendations in this week's report for reforms at the Port Authority, and wanted to explore the idea of breaking it up to create separate entities for New York and New Jersey.

Internal review

Christie's appearance was his first news conference since January 9, when he answered questions for nearly two hours about the bridge controversy that was starting to make national headlines after simmering as a local controversy during the fall election.

The day before, a team of lawyers hired by Christie's office released its internal review of the lane closure controversy.

Unlike the January appearance, when a subdued Christie appeared to be facing possible political destruction, he was his old feisty self and engaged in some sharp exchanges with reporters.

He criticized one reporter's question as being beneath the profession and refused to answer another because he said the question was based on false assumptions.

The report blamed Kelly and Wildstein, and backed the governor's denials that he knew anything about the gridlock until after it occurred. Christie has said he knew nothing about any political mischief by members of his administration.

Kelly refused to cooperate with the review ordered by Christie, but her attorney released a statement Friday saying she would "provide truthful and complete answers" to the ongoing federal investigation if she received "appropriate procedural safeguards" - presumably immunity from prosecution.

The statement also criticized the report commissioned by Christie for "venomous, gratuitous and inappropriate sexist remarks" about her, saying such attacks were a "preemptive strike" intended to discredit her.

The U.S. Attorney's office is investigating the scandal as is a state legislative committee.

"Venomous, gratuitous and inappropriate sexist remarks"

Christie acknowledged Friday that the report was "limited in small part by some of the access that they had and didn't have to certain people." But he added the document exonerating him of any wrongdoing was exhaustive and thorough and he knew it was going to be criticized "no matter what."

A key entry in the report released by Randy Mastro, who led the internal investigation, found that Wildstein apparently told a top official with the governor's office in Trenton that he informed Christie at a public event about the lane closures as they were occurring.

But the report said Christie "does not recall" any conversation with Wildstein and it all wouldn't have "registered" anyway because the governor "knew nothing about this decision in advance" to close traffic lanes.

The report also examined the claim that Christie had created a "culture" of bullying adversaries and found it "unsubstantiated."

Investigators conducting the internal review were not able to speak with Wildstein, Kelly or other prominent figures in the scandal.

Wildstein also has refused to testify before legislative investigators, while Kelly is fighting her subpoena in court.

The review also found that Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and Port Authority Executive Director Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee, knew of the plan to close the lanes in advance, but there was no evidence uncovered that the two men knew why.

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. Smitty

    Why not investigate Obumbles using the IRS for personal vengeance ??? Remember the BIGGEST LIAR OF THE YEAR said he never met his brother, turned out he lived with him, now Obumbles is even lying about the POPE. Just a guess but wouldn't you believe the POPE over Obumbles ??? Not a Christie fan but get off his back theres nothing there.

    March 28, 2014 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  2. Robyn

    So, has Tricky Christie fired his very own Haldeman and Ehrlichman yet?

    March 28, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  3. lerianis

    Like rats fleeing a sinking ship..... if these people were smart, they would disavow Christie and start throwing him on the old 'funeral pyre' live. There is no way that he is going to get out of this pickle without prison time due to abuse of power.

    March 28, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  4. knklhead

    So Christie's report states that Christie said he had no knowledge .. there. Nice report.

    March 28, 2014 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  5. Evelyn Connaway

    Gee Christie cleared himself of wrong doing? Every criminal in the country would like to do that – Most lawyers can do this using their own words, without having to face any witnesses that would give a truthful answer, with a promise of immunity. I wouldn't believe Christie or his lawyer, as far as I could throw the both of them by their tompiner!!

    March 28, 2014 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  6. TexTeacher

    Clearly he is in denial. He will be like a piece of red meat in a pit-bull ring if he runs. Fall on your sword fella!

    March 28, 2014 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  7. frankv

    is this guy kidding? does he think the whole world is stupid? the main culprits were not spoken to, yet according to lackey randy mastro, it was a thorough complete report, is he drinking spiked kool aid? here is a great and simple answer, let fat boy guv take a lie detector test adminstered by a NON republican !!!!!!!!

    March 28, 2014 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  8. ooh yaa

    Rats jumping off the ship. When will the captain admit he steered the ship?

    March 28, 2014 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  9. Michael

    Lets not have the New Jersey State Police wiggle out of this situation they were fully involved and fully aware of why they were doing what they did.

    March 28, 2014 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  10. Eldee

    Still can't believe all this happened and Christie doesn't know anything.

    March 28, 2014 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  11. Lindy

    So, he thinks that it will all be forgotten in 2 years so it doesn't matter at all now. Guess that makes it fine then doesn't what you want as long as there is time for the short memory electorate to forget about it.

    March 28, 2014 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  12. omeany

    Your watching the slow lingering political death of the only real hope for the GOP regaining the White House in 2016. Sadly, their best hope is a political bully who has no problem putting peoples lives in danger to punish a mayor who would not endorse him...Good call as it turns out!

    March 28, 2014 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    Of course someone had to take the fall! Republicans are working very hard to keep their golden boy shinning. He's their ticket to the White House and keeps taking out that polishing cloth.

    March 28, 2014 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  14. Robert N. constant

    Many people do not know that Chris Christie before being governor was a lobbyist. He successfully lobbied for convicted felon ,Bernie Madoff, who was able then to continue his unregulated securities business and swindle hundreds of people out of their life's savings.

    March 28, 2014 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  15. macthek9

    Guilty! I hope he pays!!

    March 28, 2014 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  16. Vijay

    Christie time is OVER.

    March 28, 2014 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  17. bobsmith

    His hatred and paranoia regarding the media are reminiscent of Nixon. And that sure turned out well.

    March 28, 2014 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  18. Shorty

    Geeze I hope you Americans don't vote in an idiot or crook next time around! We all suffer if you do...

    March 28, 2014 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  19. NickD

    So the governor hired his own lawyer and his own lawyer decreed that his client is innocent.

    Oh.. okay,,,, pppfbt.

    If the people of new jersy want that crumb as their Governor thats their business, but we don't need that in our White House.

    March 28, 2014 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |

    Hmm. Yawn. Well, at least the guy is closer to being healthy. Meanwhile, the GOP does not care about this guy and his staffers ethics–it's all about: is he going to be thin enough to get the nomination, coz', right now he's still a fattie...but we're working on that. . . .
    He has no options to offer: healthy or still Taft 2.0. Parroting the GOP message is not enough.

    Hilllary 2016
    Third party needed: 2016

    March 28, 2014 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  21. stilldoinit

    Yes, Gov. Christie – keep on wearing that Teflon suit, and keep on blaming other people for your catastrophic failure in office.

    Amazing how this sitting Governor has the audacity to continue his denial. Anyone who still buys his bully mentality and claim of innocence of the GWB scenario, is simply a hopeless case.

    March 29, 2014 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  22. Shane

    I believe Christie not only knew what was going on, but also went along with it. He can say bye-bye to any presidential dreams he may have had. This scandal will follow him wherever he goes. And just wait until his ex-staff starts talking.

    March 29, 2014 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  23. Thomas

    Chris Christie takes state chopper to son's baseball game .
    Gov. Chris Christie refused to refund the state for Tuesday's $2,500-an-hour flight. ..

    Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor's brother, who in 2008 lobbied for Bernie….
    Chris Christie worked for Bernie Madoff to protect people like Bernie …

    Ask yourself , GW Bridge ?

    March 29, 2014 01:49 am at 1:49 am |
  24. OrmondGeorge

    Christie will end up going down for this.
    He might have been a great Republican Presidential candidate.

    March 29, 2014 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
  25. Matt

    The man is 74 years old and is too old to deal with this stuff. Can't blame him.

    March 29, 2014 02:52 am at 2:52 am |
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