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In the discussion thread: Christie Crime Digest Volume III [View all]

Response to Laxman (Original post)

Fri May 8, 2015, 07:24 AM

21. It's Hard To Decide...

who's worse, Christie or Samson. (let's see, a malignant brain tumor or viral meningitis-that's a tough choice) It does seem as though their respective fates are tied to each other. Here's hoping a mutual career-ending crash and burn is in both of their futures.

Samson's Uncertain Fate Clouds Christie's Presidential Ambitions

While U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman of the District of New Jersey has indicated there aren't likely to be any more indictments directly related to the September 2013 closure of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the reported investigations into former Port Authority chairman David Samson continue as Gov. Chris Christie plans to seek his party's nomination for president next year.

Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to the lane closures and pleaded not guilty on May 4. A third Christie associate, David Wildstein, the former director of capital projects at the Port Authority, pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to misapply Port Authority property and conspiracy against civil rights. Wildstein has been cooperating with prosecutors.

During a May 1 press conference regarding the indictments, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman was asked specifically about Samson, but he declined to comment.

"We don't talk about what we do and don't investigate," Fishman said.

But it has been widely reported that Samson has become a focus for local and federal investigators, both for his actions at the Port Authority and at his old firm, Wolff & Samson in West Orange. Samson retired from the firm last month and it rebranded itself Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi and is now headed by former attorney general and U.S. senator Jeffrey Chiesa.

Fishman's office has reportedly subpoenaed Samson's travel records for the period when he served as the Port Authority chairman. The Port Authority operates the region's airports and, according to media reports, investigators want to know if there is any connection between United Airlines' decision to launch a twice-a-week flight—known as the "chairman's flight"—from Newark Liberty International Airport to Columbia, South Carolina, and the fact that Samson owns a vacation home in South Carolina.

United canceled the flight after Samson retired from the Port Authority.

It has also been widely reported that the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have been investigating whether Port Authority funds, raised through bond issues, were improperly diverted to help the administration pay for the $1 billion reconstruction of the Pulaski Skyway, which links Newark to Jersey City. Money raised by the Port Authority through bond sales are supposed to be used for Port Authority projects only, and the Pulaski Skyway is not owned or operated by the Port Authority, which is headquartered in Manhattan.

In addition, it has been reported that investigators are looking into whether a Wolff & Samson client benefitted when the Port Authority took over the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, from the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

Those reported investigations, coupled with the so-called Bridgegate scandal, continue to cast a pall over Christie, his administration and his anticipated presidential campaign.

After Kelly and Baroni were indicted and after Wildstein pleaded guilty, Christie's office hailed the announcement as additional proof that he had no advance knowledge of the lane closures and did not participate in them. The New York office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, retained by Christie to conduct an internal investigation, reached the same conclusion.

Both the U.S. Attorney's Office and Gibson Dunn concluded that the lane closures were orchestrated as retaliation against Democratic Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mayor Mark Sokolich after he refused to join with other Democratic mayors in endorsing Christie in his re-election bid.

But Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, said Christie is making a mistake by trying to show that the Bridgegate investigation has vindicated him, even though Fishman he did not expect further indictments related directly to the lane Sept. 9-13 lane closures.

"It's a stretch for anyone to believe that when high-level staffers are indicted or plead guilty, that's a positive thing," said Harrison.

She notes the continuing investigations of Samson as a further distraction for the governor.

"All of this creates a climate of uncertainty," she said. "That not the optimal scenario for any candidate."

Harrison pointed out that Samson was much closer to Christie both personally and professionally than Kelly, Baroni or Wildstein.

If Samson is indicted, "that will be the nail in the coffin of his presidential ambitions," she said. "There is well-grounded speculation that something is coming down the road, and that will not be good news for the governor."

Benjamin Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, agreed.

"The legacy of Bridgegate is that it has taken away any momentum he had back when he overwhelmingly won his re-election," said Dworkin. Christie won the 2013 election with 60.3 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, finished with 38.2 percent of the vote.

Christie came out of the election with an ambitious agenda that included more reforms for public-sector benefits.

"This has sucked up so much oxygen" that it is now difficult to persuade legislators to go along with any of his proposals, Dworkin said.

If any charges are filed against Samson, he said, that could prove to be devastating.

"It would send shock waves through the political establishment," Dworkin said. "The man is a significant person in the New Jersey bar with a tremendous legacy.

"We'll have to see if anything actually happens," he said.

Samson, a Republican, was the state's attorney general from 2002 until 2003 under Democratic Gov. James McGreevey. He served as counsel to Christie's campaign committee during Christie's first run for governor and then chaired the transition team after Christie defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

Christie tapped Samson to head the Port Authority, and Samson held that job from 2011 until his abrupt departure in May 2014, as the lane closures began to make national headlines.

Samson, 75, said in a statement on April 7 that he was retiring from his firm for "personal, professional and health reasons."

After initially focusing on the GWB lane closures, the federal government eventually began scrutinizing the relationship between Wolff & Samson and the Port Authority, media reports said. Fishman's office did say on May 1 that there was nothing to substantiate allegations that members of the Christie administration pressured officials in Hoboken, New Jersey, into approving a development project, headed by a Wolff & Samson client, by threatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy disaster assistance.

Officials from the administration did not respond to a request for comment. Karen Kessler, a spokeswoman for Samson, and Matthew Reilly, a spokesman for Fishman, declined to comment.


Read more: http://www.njlawjournal.com/id=1202725583273/Samsons-Uncertain-Fate-Clouds-Christies-Presidential-Ambitions#ixzz3ZY5JsiLC

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