The head of the agency that operates the George Washington Bridge resigned today, one day after an internal investigation cleared New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie of being involved in lane closings on the bridge that caused massive traffic jams and engulfed Christie's administration in a scandal.
Christie announced during a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton today that former New Jersey Attorney General David Samson resigned as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that operates the George Washington Bridge. Christie appointed Samson to the powerful position.
Samson had refused to be interviewed by the investigation created by the Christie administration.
Samson's resignation brings to five the number of top administration officials who resigned or were fired since the bridge scandal erupted.
“Over the past months, I have shared with the governor my desire to conclude my service,” 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."
Samson was never implicated in the scandal that erupted over the closure last September of local access lanes to the bridge in what investigators said was political punishment for the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. Fort Lee was flooded for days with traffic jams. But Samson’s oversight at the Port Authority and revelations about possible conflicts of interest have led to repeated calls for Christie to oust him.
An internal investigation launched by Christie into shutting down lanes to the bridge last September cleared the governor, but it widened the circle of Christie allies involved in the politically inspired traffic scandal.
The report, conducted by lawyers hired by Christie, blamed the bridge fiasco on Christie's former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and a Port Authority appointee David Wildstein. Both have been fired. The report also found that Christie's former campaign manager Bill Stepien and Bill Baroni, who Christie appointed to the powerful Port Authority, lied when asked whether they were aware of the lane closings.
Whether Samson was aware of the politically motivated traffic jam was brought into question by an email that Wildstein wrote to Kelly after the lanes were reopened. In the email Wildstein wrote to Kelly saying in part, , “Samson helping us to retaliate.”
Christie said in a January news conference that neither he nor Samson knew what Wildstein was referring to. The governor repeated today that he had “no idea” what Wildstein meant in his email.
The governor defended Samson today, saying the former attorney general insisted he was not involved in the decision to shut the bridge lanes.
“I spoke to General Samson on Jan. 8. I asked him what he knew about this...He said ‘absolutely not,’” Christie said.
The governor said he continued to have “every faith and confidence in David’s integrity.”
Samson is one of Christie’s most important patrons. His prominent law firm was counsel to Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns and Samson ran Christie’s transition to power after the governor first won his office in 2009.
Christie today defended the integrity of the review his administration paid for, saying it "will stand the test of time, and it will be tested."
Two additional investigations are currently being conducted. One is being carried out by the state Legislature and federal officials are conducting a criminal probe.