Could an investigation into David Samson, an ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, finally derail Christie’s presidential hopes once and for all?
Christie, once a GOP darling, has had increasing trouble gaining traction in national polls. And now with Samson being swept up in a federal investigation involving a major airline, Christie could soon be scrambling back to the Garden State.
United Airlines CEO Jeffrey Smisek and two other top executives abruptly resigned Tuesday amid a federal investigation into the possible trading of favors between the airline and Samson, the Christie-appointed former head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the powerful agency that runs area tunnels, bridges and airports.
When Samson was in charge at the Port Authority, United resumed direct flights to the South Carolina airport near his vacation home. Around the same time, United was pressing for concessions from the agency, including a new hangar at the Newark airport, rent reductions and a commuter rail-line extension that would connect the airport directly to lower Manhattan.
Christie said Wednesday no one should jump to conclusions about Samson because of the executives’ departures, and he called Samson a friend. He also defended his own handling of personnel matters, saying on the “Ask the Governor” show on 101.5 FM that he has worked to uphold a standard of conduct people would be proud of and “when there have been times when people haven’t met those standards I take action and I fire them.”
The investigation was an offshoot of the so-called Bridgegate case, mysterious series of traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge two years ago that has cast a long shadow over Christie’s White House hopes.
Three Christie allies — his former deputy chief of staff and two former top executives at the Port Authority — were charged last spring with closing lanes and engineering all-out gridlock at the foot of the nation’s busiest bridge in September 2013 to exact revenge on a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
Federal and state authorities expanded the bridge investigation to examine possible wrongdoing in the handling of billions of dollars in public works projects undertaken by the Port Authority.
Samson headed Christie’s gubernatorial transition team and has long been a key adviser. He resigned in 2014 after the Port Authority was implicated in the bridge scandal.
The Associated Press contributed to this article