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. victor yao

    The republicans are embroiling themselves in greed and abuse of power. From the do nothing Republican Congress who almost brought economic chaos to this country to their great presidential hopeful, Christie . They are corrupt and they are only committed to please and help their 1% rich masters to reach their goal of owning 50% of the total wealth of this nation. Anything else is of no consequence to them. Vote them out. If we don't, what would happen when the 1% reach their goal? The next goal would have to be set at 60%.

    March 29, 2014 03:03 am at 3:03 am |
  2. superglide96

    Hopefully they'll all resign.

    March 29, 2014 05:07 am at 5:07 am |
  3. Kendra

    Well if a law firm that he commissioned says he had nothing to do with it then I believe them. All lawyers are honest.

    March 29, 2014 05:32 am at 5:32 am |
  4. croaton999

    The biggest difference between President Obama and Christie is that when people around Christie make mistakes, they lose there jobs. Not so much with president Obama.

    March 29, 2014 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  5. Alan

    I really do understand that this needs to be investigated fair enough. However, this story is on the front page of the website and there is not one single mention of the ARREST of Senator Leland Yee?? The137-page FBI affidavit of repeatedly offering to broker illegal firearms sales in exchange for campaign contributions," and he is "linked to a host of wrongdoing to pad his political war chest, charged with seven felonies. You guys are still running with a story about lane closures on a bridge and ignore this? Come on.

    March 29, 2014 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  6. kevikens

    Absolutely fascinating how the media can word a story to tell a different one from reality to push their agenda. The media is scared to death that the Republicans have a candidate who can beat their darling Hillary in '16 so they just naturally will color their reporting to help her out. The choice of words is revealing. Every emotionally loaded term they could think was in this article. There is not the slightest evidence the governor had a single thing to do with the lanes closings. As for the guy resigning, he had started the retirement process a year ago.

    March 29, 2014 07:20 am at 7:20 am |
  7. bassman

    Sarah Palin is right. This is over-kill. Especially considering what the Obama administration has gotten away with.

    March 29, 2014 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  8. Stephen S.

    Anyone else think the headline was talking about Kirstie Alley at first glance?

    March 29, 2014 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  9. davelja1

    I find it interesting that CNN focuses on Christie, who has an (R) after his name, yet remains silent when Democrats are actually arrested. This week, the FBI arrested a California senator, who has appeared on Piers Morgan, as an advocate of gun control. The charges? Smuggling M16s and rocket launchers obtained from a Muslim terrorist sect via the Phillipines. Or how about the other two California Democrats arrested for bribery? CNN is as biased to Democrats as Fox News is to Republicans, and that makes its news department equally as worthless.

    March 29, 2014 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  10. Benjamin Sheffield

    True leaders lead from the top and hold themselves accountable, Chris.

    March 29, 2014 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  11. NYVeteran

    As a former GOP member, I am astounded that anyone in the north east still considers themselves a member of that party. Here is a news flash: they don't want you, they only want your money. You and your values don't matter. Unless you are a red meat, rabid, evangelical wing n ut, you simply are irrelevant. For gods sake they are bashing the pope because he is daring to profess the values of Jesus Christ that conflict with their WA SPy outlook on life. Church is a once a week thing except when its used for political purposes. Christie is the Micheal Dukakis of the GOP. Get real folks. Do you really identify with Rand Paul? Joe McCarthy II (Ted Cruz), or any of those cartoon characters? They dont care about you or the little guy and I have news for all of you: you are all little guys. Wake up and smell the coffee before its too late.

    March 29, 2014 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  12. David

    The law firm that produced this report was completely in Christie's pocket – he hired them and they did what he wanted them to do – provide supposedly "evidence" to exonerate him. It is disgraceful that taxpayer money was used for this biased report. A storm of corruption swirls around Christie but somehow he is clean? Look at his behavior – systematically bringing other people down. This is not what we want in a President – it is Jersey politics at it's worst!

    March 29, 2014 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  13. Uncle Sam

    christie is a liar

    March 29, 2014 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  14. Joesmith

    4 dead American... No big deal. A bridge closes and everyone looses their freaking mind.

    March 29, 2014 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  15. G24U

    The sergeant Schultz defense ...I know nothing...nothing!.....has turned into ... "My staff has let me down". Pathetic.

    March 29, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  16. theala

    Yeah, I didn't bully anyone. I didn't know anything about what my people did at that bridge. My own report, that I ordered done, clears me of everything! Trust me! If the people I ordered to investigate me had found anything, you'd know!

    March 29, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  17. thewiccanview

    So he believes in his own BS... Or would like the rest of us believe that a report that he wanted written that cleared him by his own lawyers is right.. Good luck with that Governor Christie..

    March 29, 2014 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  18. Ralph H

    It's disgusting the way politicians fight with each other. They act just like little kids spouting off about this guy or that guy. It's time for those we elect to show respect to everyone instead of complaining about what some else says

    March 29, 2014 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  19. 1alien1

    i really thought christie could be the the one. just another crazy politician

    March 29, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  20. Phil T. Listener

    "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."

    Christie hopes this manufactured "insight" into the workings of his corrupt administration will make everything magically go away along with Samson and all those he fired or resigned. Hopefully the truth comes out. He doesn't deserve to be anywhere near public office.

    March 29, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  21. TxGran

    Christie is a "red-neck," and he will appeal to other rednecks. However, I think most people think of him as gruff and vindictive and won't soon forget the bridge incident. In fact, every time I see him on TV that is what I think of. Me thinks he protests way too much.

    March 29, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  22. Geo Bruno

    Using your political office/position for the direct $ gain of your law firm and its clients is wrong in so may ways

    March 29, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  23. Carlaeverett

    How fortunate to be able to initiate your own investigation with your staff, prepare and issue a report that clears you, using your team of lawyers, then disassociate yourself from your closest staff. Do I smell something? Rotten?

    March 29, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  24. gkam

    Can ANYONE imagine Christie with the power of the entire federal government, making his "Big Tony" decisions?

    It will be the United States of Organized Crime.

    Oh, . . wait, . . ..

    March 29, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  25. Harry101

    Well we still don't see any article in CNN on the DNC members the mayor and California state senator. I guess that's just how they roll

    March 29, 2014 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
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