Port Authority Chairman David Samson resigned after a report commissioned by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to probe lane closings at the George Washington Bridge recommended changes at the agency.
Samson, appointed by Christie to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the span, was linked by e-mails to September traffic jams at the foot of the bridge in Fort Lee, whose mayor didn’t endorse the governor’s re-election. Samson has been wanting to step down for a year, Christie told reporters yesterday in Trenton, saying he asked him to stay on through the election.
“He’s 74 years old and he’s tired,” Christie said at his first press conference in 11 weeks. Samson’s resignation, effective immediately, was “no shock,” Christie said. Samson said the move was needed to alter the direction of the agency, which needs “fundamental structural change,” the Republican governor said.
Samson’s resignation came a day after an internal report commissioned by Christie’s administration blamed former aides and allies for the traffic jam and cleared the governor of wrongdoing. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, the New York law firm that conducted the review, didn’t interview Samson.
The taxpayer-funded report cost about $1 million at $650 an hour, according to Democratic lawmakers. It delved into the private lives of aides blamed for the jams, while presenting the governor as an active chief executive dedicated to the truth and wounded by betrayal.
Pat Foye, the authority’s executive director appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, told the New York Daily News in February that Samson lacked moral authority to run the agency. Foye declined to comment on Samson’s resignation, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman.
Christie said the report’s suggestion of splitting the agency between New York and New Jersey might have merit.
The 51-year-old potential presidential candidate has avoided reporters’ questions since the scandal erupted in January, imperiling a possible 2016 campaign. He said yesterday that he wanted to gather facts before holding another news conference. The governor sparred with reporters during the session, calling questions that displeased him ridiculous and “infirm.”
Christie’s popularity across the U.S. fell to 32 percent in a Bloomberg National Poll conducted March 7-10. It was 50 percent in June, about two months before Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff, sent an Aug. 13 e-mail to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority, that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein, who ordered the closings, replied: “Got it.”
The last time Christie took reporters’ questions was on Jan. 9, when he presided over an almost two-hour news conference, apologizing and denying any knowledge of a plot to close lanes as an act of retaliation. Christie said then that he had fired Kelly and severed ties with Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager. Wildstein resigned.
Kelly and Wildstein ordered the closings for “unclear ulterior motives,” the internal report concluded. Both declined to be interviewed by lawyers for Christie’s administration. Separate investigations are also being conducted by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and state lawmakers.
In one message obtained under lawmakers’ subpoena, Wildstein told Kelly that Samson was “helping us to retaliate” for New York officials’ easing the jam on what would have been its fifth day.
Samson, formerly New Jersey’s attorney general, also has been the subject of reports in the New York Times, the Star-Ledger of Newark and other newspapers about Port Authority votes on projects with ties to his law firm, Wolff & Samson.
Christie said Jan. 9 that he spoke to him for two hours the day before and believed that he knew nothing about the issue. The governor reiterated that belief yesterday.
The governor said he didn’t consider Samson’s resignation “essential.” It was Samson, he said, who in a phone conversation yesterday said that with new leadership, the administration would “not have to worry” about past controversy.