TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Chris Christie on Friday defended a report by taxpayer-funded lawyers who cleared him of any involvement in closing lanes near the George Washington Bridge for political reasons, saying it “will stand the test of time.”
Christie also announced the resignation of David Samson as chairman of the Port Authority, which runs the bridge.
Christie spoke at his first news conference since Jan. 9. His appearance came a day after a report from a law firm he hired issued a 345-page summary of the scandal. The summary reportedly cost $1 million.
“I think the report will stand the test of time and it will be tested by the other investigations that are going on,” Christie said, referring to separate probes by federal prosecutors and a special legislative committee.
“Look at the report. We gave them unfettered, complete access to everyone in this government,” said Christie. “Gave them complete access not only to people’s professional emails, but to their personal emails and their personal devices.”
Christie said the lawyers who produced the report would not “give away their reputations to do some kind of slipshod job for me.”
The report portrayed the Republican 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. It was deeply critical of the former Christie aide and ex-Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official who it said were solely behind the September lane closures, which were apparent payback against a mayor whose town was tied up with traffic.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever know what the motive is,” Christie said. “It mystifies me on every level why this was done.”
Democrats have blasted the report as one-sided and incomplete.
Following the governor’s news conference, the co-chairs of the state legislative panel investigating the lane closures released the following statement:
“Today’s developments are yet another indication that this investigation is far from over. “The Governor’s top appointee at the Port Authority refuses to be interviewed for the administration’s report and then resigns the day after it comes out, leaving us, once again with far more questions than answers.
“The committee will not allow this one-sided review to color the ongoing investigation as we expect it was intended. Any credible examination of the lane closures should be focused on uncovering the facts, not exonerating the governor or anyone else.”
A lawyer for Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, who was fired in January over her role in the scandal, issued a statement on the Mastro report on Friday.
“Of course, without reviewing all pertinent evidence, any conclusions that are to be drawn are by definition incomplete,” the statement read in part.
The attorney blasted the report as venomous, gratuitous, and sexist for the way it portrayed Kelly, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported.
The attorney went on to say it’s not surprising that Kelly was pre-emptively impugned and isolated from the investigation.
“The only credit investigation into the lane closings,” the attorney said. “Is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Samson, a former state attorney general, was a Christie appointee who has attracted scrutiny this year.
His law firm was representing a private firm with plans to do a redevelopment project in Hoboken. Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of that city, has said that members of Christie’s cabinet said her city’s Superstorm Sandy aid would be tied to her support for the plan. Christie’s administration denies that accusation.
Samson also was the subject of reports this year that found businesses he represented may have benefited by Port Authority actions.
He said in a statement that he had planned to step down from the chairman job anyway.
“Over the past months, I have shared with the governor my desire to conclude my service to the PANYNJ,” he said. “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 Friday that he is interested in exploring a recommendation from Thursday’s report to consider splitting the Port Authority into two separate agencies: One for New York and one for New Jersey.
At times apologetic, at other times reflective, the governor also became combative when CBS 2’s Christine Sloan asked him about his leadership.
“Christine, stop. You have to get the facts right if you’re going to ask me a question. I made the joke on Dec. 2, not after – excuse me, excuse me – not after [Port Authority Executive Director] Pat Foye’s testimony. What’s your question?” the governor said.
Christie quipped he was part of the crew putting out traffic cones for the lane closures. He’s said in the past he made that joke when he believed the lanes were closed for a valid traffic study.
The governor was asked whether he plans on running for president in 2016. He didn’t give an answer but conceded his poll numbers are dropping.
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