The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s former chairman maintained constant contact with top members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration during the week lanes to the George Washington Bridge were shut down, newly released phone records show.
David Samson, who resigned in March as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, spoke several times to Christie’s chief of staff and a top aide the week motorists in Fort Lee heading over the GWB were ensnarled in traffic jams over the course of four days.
Samson also had phone contact with former Port Authority officials Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, who both resigned from the agency in the wake of the controversy surrounding the lane closures.
The 18 months of call logs indicate Samson’s phone contact with Wildstein, the official who received the infamous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email from a Christie aide, spiked between June and September. Before that, they rarely spoke by phone, the records show.
The calls, first reported by WNYC, were released by the legislative committee investigating the lane closures as supporting documents from the recent testimony of Christie’s chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd. The records show Samson and O’Dowd were in frequent contact over the full 18 months.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who co-chairs the legislative committee, said today the calls raise credibility issues with the Christie administration’s narrative of the events.
"It does raise some serious questions about the accuracy of this story we have been collectively told by a number of people that this was just no big deal and that no one really paid much attention to it," said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). "The calls seemed to indicate a heightened level of phone activity. The call logs, in particular, and the documents in general raise credibility issues with me."
The logs show a dozen calls between Samson and Baroni, with whom he regularly communicated over the phone, the week the lanes were closed. The two spoke for more than 20 minutes on Sept. 13, the day Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye ordered the lanes reopened. They also spoke on Sept. 16 shortly after records indicate Baroni was forwarded an email showing The Wall Street Journal was inquiring about the lane closures.
Samson and Baroni later exchanged three calls the day Baroni testified before lawmakers in November, assuring legislators the lanes were closed as part of a traffic study. Samson also spoke with Christie aide Regina Egea, who was slated to become the governor’s chief of staff, for 17 minutes the day Baroni testified.
Samson has declined to offer testimony for the legislative committee. Former two-time Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and former aide Bridget Anne Kelly, who sent the email to Wildstein ahead of the lane closures, have also refused to testify.
Samson is refusing to talk to the legislative committee investigating the matter, but he's going to get the opportunity to talk to the investigating US attorney, as Esquire reported last week:
Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, wades through the sewage of Christie’s stewardship. Two sources with intimate knowledge of the case say Fishman’s pace is quickening -- he has empaneled a second grand jury, and the U.S. Justice Department has sent assistant prosecutors and FBI agents to work the case.
“What’s taking the most time,” according to one source, “is separating what's viable from all the bad stuff they’re finding that may not be viable.”
Fishman’s challenge is to nail down specific criminal charges on several fronts -- the diversion of Port Authority money to fund New Jersey road and bridge projects; the four-day rush-hour closures of George Washington Bridge lanes in Ft. Lee; and a web of real-estate deals spun by David Samson, long a Christie crony, when he chaired the PA’s Board of Commissioners as Christie’s appointee. (One such deal, a stalled office-tower development in Hoboken, New Jersey, is central to a claim that Christie’s lieutenant governor told the town’s mayor that the state would withhold Hurricane Sandy relief aid from Hoboken if the mayor didn’t sign off on the development project.)
Whatever Christie says or does -- and whatever potential donors or Jimmy Fallon and his viewers think -- the question that truly matters is whether Fishman’s pursuit leads to the governor himself. Christie’s Port appointees -- not only Samson, but former PA Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and his oddball sidekick David Wildstein -- all face near-certain indictment and are being pressed to hand up Christie, as is the governor’s former chief counsel, Charlie McKenna.
Wildstein, portrayed as the mastermind behind Ft. Lee’s traffic problems, has made proffers to Fishman’s investigators -- hoping to trade information to the prosecutor in exchange for gentler legal treatment -- but Fishman has cut no deals with anyone so far, and the looming indictments have encouraged Christie’s PA appointees to sing. “Don’t underestimate what Wildstein has on Christie,” says one source. “And Wildstein and Baroni have both turned on Samson. If Samson doesn't give Fishman Christie, Samson is toast.”
With the news that the SEC and the Manhattan district attorney is also investigating Christie for stealing money from the Port Authority and using it for New Jersey bridge and road projects, Samson doesn't look like he's the only guy who's "toast" here.
Christie starts to look pretty toastie too.