Politics
2:16 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

David Samson: The Christie Aide Who Has Survived The Scandal

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 5:28 pm

Transcript

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Sometime this week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is expected to release an internal review of what happened in September when officials abruptly closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. One of the key players in that scandal is still at work.

David Samson is a close political ally of Christie's, and his fortunes have risen along with the governor's. From member station WNYC, Andrea Bernstein has this profile.

ANDREA BERSNTEIN, BYLINE: Back in January, when emails linking his top staff to lane closures emerged, Governor Chris Christie angrily fired his campaign manager and his deputy chief of staff. But he staunchly backed another appointee whose name also emerged in the documents - David Samson, the chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'm convinced that he had absolutely no knowledge of this, that this was executed at the operational level.

BERSNTEIN: While Christie was making those remarks, in another wing of the statehouse, Assemblyman John Wisniewksi was questioning David Wildstein, the organizer of the lane closures.

ASSEMBLYMAN JOHN WISNIEWSKI: Two last documents, 630 and 641...

BERSNTEIN: The lawmaker was asking Wildstein's lawyer, Alan Zegas, about an email Wildstein had written.

WISNIEWSKI: New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately going nuts, Samson helping us to retaliate. Who is Samson?

ALAN ZEGAS: As I see the language, sir, and I would advise Mr. Wildstein once again to assert respective silence under the federal and New Jersey constitutions.

BERSNTEIN: Who is Samson? That's a question a lot of people were beginning to ask. The tall, elegant man is often seen next to the governor but outside of Port Authority meetings, doesn't say much.

DAVID SAMSON: The Board Meeting of the Port Authority of New York in New Jersey and its subsidiaries is now called to order.

BERSNTEIN: Records show Samson's lobbying billings increased 20-fold under Christie. Ten days after the bridge documents emerged, Samson's name would come up again in a second scandal. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer charged that Christie's lieutenant governor had threatened to withhold recovery aid for storm Sandy if the mayor didn't approve a 40-story office development.

MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER: She explained that the governor really wanted me to move ahead, that the Rockefeller project was very important to the governor. And she said, I know it's not right. These things should not be connected, but they are.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Christie's team denied wrongdoing but two key facts emerged: the developer was a Samson client and the Port Authority had made a grant for a study that helped that client. That, it turned out, would be the first we would learn of a series of projects Samson pushed in his official capacity as Port Authority chair, while also working for the clients privately as a lawyer. Samson backed the takeover of the Atlantic City airport by the Port Authority at the same time his law firm was quietly working for the airport.

SAMSON: There are great opportunities here, our consultants tell us and our aviation people tell us.

BERNSTEIN: Then there was his representation of New Jersey transit while at the same time getting the Port Authority to agree to a large subsidy for that client - the $256 million renovation of a commuter train station - while also representing two clients who stood to benefit from the overhaul. Samson hasn't consented to interviews about the potential conflicts. His spokeswoman has maintained he has always held himself to the highest personal and professional standards. At the Port Authority board meeting last month, Samson brushed by reporters but he did apologize for the lane closures.

SAMSON: On behalf of the board of commissioners, we are deeply sorry for inconvenience caused to our travelers.

BERNSTEIN: Calling the four-day lane closures an inconvenience was the last straw. Three newspapers called on Samson to resign. But in his monthly radio show, the governor didn't budge.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still stand by Samson as your appointee?

CHRISTIE: Strongly. Firmly.

BERNSTEIN: The New Jersey U.S. attorney, already investigating the lane closure and Sandy aid scandals, recently widened his inquiry to include Samson's potential conflicts. But as of now, Samson remains the chair of the Port Authority and a close Christie adviser. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Bernstein in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.