David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, refused to hand over more documents to state lawmakers probing the George Washington Bridge lane closings, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Lawyers for Samson, an ally of Governor Chris Christie, questioned the “fairness and legitimacy” of the inquiry. They asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege amid investigations by U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman and others. Lawmakers want to know which of Christie’s allies shut access lanes last September to the bridge, which the Port Authority runs.
While Samson “has done nothing wrong and has violated no laws,” the Fifth Amendment protects innocent men “who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances,” his lawyers wrote May 2 to the counsel for a legislative committee that subpoenaed documents from him.
“The legislative committee is engaged in a political exercise, not an objective fact-finding mission,” Samson attorney Michael Chertoff said in a statement. “Samson cannot and will not participate in a process that fundamentally jeopardizes his constitutional rights and which stands to wrongly besmirch his reputation for honesty and public service.”
Two other figures in the center of the scandal -- Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Christie, and David Wildstein, once a high-ranking official at the Port Authority -- also invoked their right against self incrimination in response to subpoenas for documents. A state judge refused to enforce their subpoenas, saying they were overbroad and amounted to a fishing expedition.
Samson, who initially turned over some documents, won’t hand over any more because the committee has repeatedly disregarded its own procedures, wrote Chertoff and his co-counsel Angelo Genova. Fishman’s office also has subpoenaed material from the committee, “effectively treating the committee as a conduit” for its own investigation, they said.
Samson resigned on March 28, a day after a law firm’s report commissioned by Christie absolved the Republican governor in the lane closings. The report blamed Kelly and Wildstein for traffic tie-ups that crippled Fort Lee, New Jersey, where the Democratic mayor didn’t back Christie’s re-election last fall.
The committee has subpoenaed documents from 28 people and organizations, and will take testimony this month from several witnesses. The Democratic co-chairmen, Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said in a statement that they were disappointed by Samson’s decision.
“The best way to get to the root of this abuse of government power is full cooperation by everyone,” they said. “We will obviously continue forward with this bipartisan inquiry until the people of New Jersey get the answers they deserve.”