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Transit agency head apologizes for NJ traffic jams

Wednesday - 2/19/2014, 7:51pm  ET

ANGELA DELLI SANTI
Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- The head of the transit agency at the center of the traffic jam scandal engulfing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration apologized to commuters Wednesday, and lawmakers investigating the apparent political payback plot moved to get information from two key figures.

David Samson, a Christie confidante whom the governor appointed to chair the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the agency is "deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused to our travelers." He promised a full accounting of the closures last fall of lanes approaching the heavily traveled George Washington Bridge, which the authority runs, even though he himself has been subpoenaed in the investigation.

Christie aides appear to have orchestrated the lane closings, which created hours-long traffic backups in Fort Lee, the town at the base of the bridge. The motive may have been to send a message to the mayor, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie. Five people close to the Republican governor, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, have been fired or resigned, and federal authorities are conducting a criminal investigation separate from the lawmakers' civil probe.

The legislators filed court papers Wednesday to compel two former aides to turn over documents related to the lane closures. The pair, former campaign manager Bill Stepien and fired aide Bridget Kelly, have cited their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to comply.

Lawyers for both said they had not reviewed the filing.

"I look forward to litigating these in court," added Michael Critchely, a lawyer for Kelly.

Also subpoenaed in the traffic jams probe is Samson, a former state attorney general who oversaw Christie's transition to governor and has become a key figure in the unfolding scandal and other allegations of wrongdoing against Christie's team.

Samson's apology, during the transit agency's monthly meeting in New York, was his first public response to the lane closures and came after urging from a newly created oversight committee. Last month's release of private emails and texts relating to the traffic jams contained no expression of remorse toward commuters from Samson or inquiry from him about why they happened, though he did write of anger over press leaks he believed were coming from a Port Authority appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Samson is also involved in a separate accusation against Christie's administration of again using political pressure to bring about a favored result. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer claimed last month that two members of Christie's Cabinet tried to link the city's superstorm recovery aid to her support of a favored redevelopment project. The developer, The Rockefeller Group, was represented by Samson's firm.

Christie's administration denies the allegation. Rockefeller has since cut ties with Samson's firm.

Samson's legal work also attracted attention when The Record of Bergen County reported that as a Port Authority board member, he voted for a $256 million reconstruction for a rundown PATH train station in Harrison months after a builder he represented proposed converting a nearby warehouse into luxury apartments.

The Record also reported Wednesday that Samson voted in favor of the Port Authority granting a $1 per year lease for a North Bergen commuter car lot to New Jersey Transit while his firm was advising the transit agency on how to maximize profits for parking lots. The deal reportedly saved the state agency $900,000 a year.

Samson has hired Michael Chertoff, a former U.S. attorney for New Jersey and U.S. Homeland Security secretary, as his lawyer.

The scandal broke open last month with the release of subpoenaed emails showing the involvement of Christie loyalists in the lane closures. In one email, Kelly wrote to a Port Authority executive, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Christie has denied knowledge of the planning or execution of the lane closings.

___

Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik in New York and Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield contributed to this report.


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