Gov. Chris Christie announced the resignation of the Port Authority chairman Friday amid continuing questions about lane closures near the George Washington Bridge, and said it might never be clear why the plot was hatched to cause traffic jams.
Christie spoke to the media Friday, a day after his lawyers released an internal report clearing him of any involvement in the scheme to create traffic problems near the bridge last fall. The report failed to answer the question of why the lanes were closed, and Christie said Friday he wasn't sure that would ever be known.
"I don't know if we'll ever know what the motive is," he said. "It mystifies me on every level why this was done."
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The report released by former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro relied on interviews with Christie and other officials in his administration — who were not under oath — and 250,000 documents, many of them emails and text messages. But the key figures in the political payback plot did not cooperate, including Port Authority Chairman David Samson, leading Democrats to question the credibility of the report and its thoroughness.
The report also recommended changes to the structure at the Port Authority, a bi-state agency of New York and New Jersey.
Christie said Samson had told him Friday that the best way to accomplish that would be with new leadership.
"He called me this afternoon and told me that, 'if you're going to have a chance to institute these types of reforms, I think you have to have somebody in there who will be able to take a brand new look at this and not have to worry about the things of the past, so I'm going to go,'" Christie said.
Samson said in a statement that he had told Christie for months he planned to leave.
"The timing is now right, and I am confident that the governor will put new leadership in place to address the many challenges ahead," he said.
Samson, a former New Jersey attorney general, was appointed to the Port Authority by Christie and elected chairman by the board in February 2011. He had served as Christie's 2009 campaign lawyer and headed the governor-elect's transition committee.
Samson was pulled into the bridge scandal after an email from David Wildstein, another Christie ally at the Port Authority, was made public in January.
The email from Wildstein to Christie aide Bridget Kelly mentioned the lifting of the lane closures by a New York appointee to the Port Authority.
"The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning," Wildstein wrote Kelly on Sept. 13. "We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate."
In January, Samson said he was "extremely upset and distressed" over the emails. He denied having any knowledge of the closures until they were lifted.
Samson's name surfaced in the news again in late January, when the Bergen Record reported that as Port Authority chairman he backed a plan to renovate a train station located close to a planned housing complex proposed by a builder represented by his law firm.
A lawyer for Kelly cast doubt on the credibility of the governor's report, which concludes Kelly and a co-conspirator acted alone in shutting down traffic.
"The only credible investigation into the lane closings is being conducted by the U.S. attorney's office," Kelly lawyer Michael Critchley said.
The report cast Kelly in unflattering personal terms.
On Friday, Critchley said the attempt to impugn Kelly's credibility is unsurprising because she may have evidence that contradicts the report's conclusion that no one else in Christie's office knew of the plot in advance.