Chris Christie Gets Combative Over Bridgegate

At a Friday press conference, the New Jersey governor aggressively boosts a new report that clears his name in the scandal.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a Town Hall Meeting with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at Belmar Borough Municipal Building on March 25, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey. (National Journal)

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Chris Christie has found his shield. In contrast to the apologetic figure who addressed reporters in December after news of the George Washington Bridge scandal broke, the governor who spoke to reporters Friday was assured and absolute. As the governor sees it, the 300-plus page report commissioned by his administration is the final word in the matter. And that final word is that he is innocent.

"I believe what the report told me," Christie told reporters. "Read the report," he later said. "They can't make up facts."

The conclusions from the report released Thursday cleared Christie of the George Washington Bridge lane closings and found no evidence that he withheld storm-relief money from Hoboken for political leverage. "Our findings today are a vindication of Gov. Christie," Randy Mastro, the lawyer hired by Christie to conduct the investigation, said Thursday.

Despite Christie's assertions Friday, doubts remain about the new report's objectivity. As The New York Times reports, the investigators did not question Bridget Kelly, the official at the center of the scandal, but yet "they explain her conduct in unusually personal terms." The report vilifies Kelly and, perhaps, "doubles down on a strategy of portraying Ms. Kelly as duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability."

Christie responded to such skepticism during the press conference Friday. "No matter who I chose to do this, questions would be raised by some quarters as to those people's objectivity," he said. Christie explained how the prosecutors writing the report had full access to the administration and to emails and personal files.

Of the selection of lawyers to lead the case, he said, "There's not a major law firm in this region that I don't have some relationship with over that time and some personal connection to."

At the beginning of the press conference, Christie announced that Port Authority Chairman David Samson has resigned from his position, effective immediately. Samson, Christie said, told him earlier Friday that "he completely supports the recommendations laid out for the Port Authority and he believes the best way to start a new year at the Port Authority is with new leadership." Christie suggested that Samson was tired, and that he's been considering retirement for over a year.

Samson, a Christie appointee, has come under increased scrutiny since the Bridgegate scandal broke. The New York Times editorial board called on Samson to resign earlier this month, saying that "a major housecleaning at the Port Authority" was needed, and suggested that Samson, a longtime Christie ally, is not "professional" enough for the job. Federal prosecutors subpoenaed records from Samson earlier in March.

Christie said Friday that the independent report "seems to indicate that there was a traffic study of some kind" on the bridge, but the "motive" for the study "seems to have been disputed."

So, after the lengthy, expensive investigation, does the governor have any more of an idea of why this scandal happened? "I don't know if we'll ever know what the motive is," he said Friday.