New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Friday that the report that cleared him in the Bridge-gate scandal "will stand the test of time, and it will be tested" — as he announced the resignation of Port Authority Chairman David Samson from the debacle that has clouded his political future.
The 360-page report was completed by a law firm hired by the Republican governor and paid for, at $650 an hour, by taxpayers.
He said the lawyers involved in the report would not "give away their reputations to do some kind of slipshod job for me." The firm was headed by lawyer Randy Mastro, who has longstanding ties to Christie.
The document portrayed the governor as a careful yet emotional leader who looked into the eyes of his top staffers as he asked what they knew about the lane closures.
Democrats have blasted the report as one-sided, incomplete and designed to exonerate Christie, who has been seen as a 2016 GOP presidential nominee.
They also noted that two Christie allies accused of engineering the traffic jam by ordering lane closings on the George Washington Bridge last September refused to cooperate with the lawyers.
At his first news conference since apologizing for the scandal in January, Christie announced Samson's resignation.
A former state attorney general, Samson, 74, was appointed to the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by Christie in 2010. He was elected chairman in February 2011.
"David tendered his resignation to me this afternoon, effective immediately," Christie said.
The bi-state agency, established in 1921, oversees airports, bridges, tunnels and other transportation operations in the New York-New Jersey region. It has a budget of $8.2 billion and is undergoing a 10-year, $27.6 billion capital improvement plan.
Samson's role in the closings remains an open question. His name appears in emails in documents that have been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors and the New Jersey legislature.
“Over the past months, I have shared with the governor my desire to conclude my service to the PANYNJ," 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."
Christie said that he was not surprised by Samson's resignation in light of Thursday's report.
The document blamed the scandal on former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, who sent the email to David Wildstein, the port authority's former director of interstate capital projects, saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Christie fired Kelly, and Wildstein resigned in December because of the scandal. Neither Kelly nor Wildstein nor Samson participated in the report.
The closings have been criticized as political payback to Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who refused to endorse the Republican governor's re-election bid last year.
"This comes as no great shock to me," Christie said of Samson's resignation. He added that Samson had first discussed retirement with him about a year ago.
"He stayed on because I asked him to stay on," Christie told reporters. "His action is not a shock to me. He believed it was essential, and so I accepted his resignation this afternoon."
The gridlock occurred Sept. 9-13, when three of the 12 eastbound toll-booth lanes on the George Washington Bridge heading into New York from New Jersey were cut off at Fort Lee for a traffic study.
The lanes are normally dedicated to morning rush-hour traffic. The other lanes were used for regular traffic.
Besides the badly snarled traffic, the closures had been linked to delays by emergency responders to at least four medical emergencies, including one involving a 91-year-old woman who later died at a Fort Lee hospital.
At the Jan. 9 news conference, Christie appeared contrite
"I come out here to apologize to the people of New Jersey," he said at the start of what became a two-hour news conference. "I apologize to the people of Fort Lee. And I apologize to the State Legislature.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team."
But on Friday, Christie was more combative with reporters.
"What you get with me is what you get,” he said in response to a question. "I cannot shed who I am."
He called some queries "ridiculous" and refused to answer others after deeming their premise "infirm."
Christie added that he had not held a news conference sooner because he did not have all the facts.
“I was not going to sit up here and play dodgeball on your questions,” he said.
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