David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has resigned, effective immediately, Gov. Chris Christie announced during a press conference Friday.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since Jan. 9, Christie said that he had been called by Samson that afternoon and informed of his plans to resign.
The move comes as Christie announced that he's interested in splitting up the Port Authority and taking the bistate agency "from under one roof to two." Samson, Christie said, "completely supports the recommendation."
Samson, a founding member of the West Orange-based law firm Wolff & Samson, has come under scrutiny as the George Washington Bridge scandal has unfolded over the past few months.
Rumors have been swirling that Samson might be the next top official to step down in the wake of the controversy, which has already claimed Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, former campaign manager Bill Stepien and former Port Authority official David Wildstein.
Recent reports have also surfaced pointing to potential conflicts between Samson's business interests and his public actions as chairman. A January report by WNYC found that Wolff & Samson's lobbying business went from $40,000 annually prior to Christie's first election to more than $1 million per year afterwards. In addition, the firm's municipal bond counsel businesses have quadrupled since Christie took office, going from $2.4 billion worth of bond sales under Gov. Jon Corzine to $10.1 billion under Christie.
Samson's firm has also been linked to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer's allegations that members of the Christie administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid from her city if she did not approve a politically connected project put forth by the Rockefeller Group, which Wolff & Samson represented at the time of the claim.
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Working Families Alliance filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission, claiming Samson had committed several conflict-of-interest violations.
"David Samson repeatedly violated the public trust by weighing in and sometimes voting on matters that enriched clients of his law-firm," NJWFA executive director Analilia Mejia said in a statement at the time. "The Port Authority has a $4 billion budget and manages the commutes of millions. It needs an effective leader untainted by scandal."
As he has repeatedly done through the scandal, Christie stood by Samson on Friday, claiming that he believes the former state Attorney General played no role whatsoever in the plotting or execution of the lane closures.
"I have every faith and trust in David's integrity," Christie said.
Christie said that Samson had talked about resigning for the past year and that although unexpected, the move was ultimately "not a shock" to him.
Despite outside calls for Samson's resignation amid allegations of wrongdoing, Christie said he didn't believe his stepping down was "essential," noting that if he did, he "would have asked him to resign myself."
"He was 74, and he was tired," Christie said of Samson and his motives for resigning.
Samson issued a statement immediately following the announcement.
"Over the past months, I have shared with the Governor my desire to conclude my service to the PANYNJ," he said in a written statement. "The timing is now right, and I am confident that the Governor will put new leadership in place to address the many challenges ahead."
For Christie, the press conference was also the first since an internal review commissioned by his administration into the bridge and Sandy controversies was published Thursday. The report, which has been widely criticized due to its reported high cost to taxpayers and lacking of cooperation from Samson and other key players in the controversies, concluded that Christie was exonerated in the matters.
As for why Samson did not participate in the review, Christie said Friday that Samson had concerns about compromising attorney-client privilege.
Christie added he had not had time to think about who he will tap to replace Samson.
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