The scandal surrounding the illegal lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, nicknamed Bridgegate, continues to ruin careers. On Tuesday, the CEO and two senior executives of United Airlines resigned due to their involvement in a favor-trading scheme uncovered in the Bridgegate investigations.
Federal authorities are investigating special flights received by former New York and New Jersey Port Authority Chairman David Samson that appear to have been given in exchange for his facilitating the use of Port Authority funds to improve Newark International Airport, where United is the largest carrier.
Chairman Samson was allegedly given those special flights, nicknamed the “Chairman’s Flight,” to his vacation home in South Carolina at the same time that Samson was granting United’s request for public investment at the Newark airport. A seemingly open and shut case of corruption with an obvious quid-pro-quo.
The investigation into the scheme is apparently getting so hot that United’s executives and shareholders felt the need to jettison their corporate leadership.
The Port Authority came into the cross-hairs of federal authorities as a result of officials within New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration and officials Christie appointed to the Port Authority shutting down the George Washington Bridge reportedly to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey for not endorsing Governor Christie for reelection. Shutting down the GWB caused such chaos in the town of Fort Lee that no vehicles, including ambulances, could travel freely.
Figures within the Port Authority as well as Governor Christie himself initially claimed the lane closures and paralyzing traffic in Fort Lee was the result of a traffic study. But after closer scrutiny by the New Jersey legislature it became clear there was no real traffic study and that the lane closures were a result of orders from political figures at the Port Authority and beyond.
During the course of the investigation by the state legislature, emails between officials in the Christie Administration and the Port Authority revealed the apparent motive behind the closures was political payback to the mayor of Fort Lee.
Last May, the United States Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, indicted Governor Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and former Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority Bill Baroni. The former Director of Interstate Capital Projects at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, plead guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy against civil rights. Both Baroni and Wildstein were appointed to the Port Authority by Governor Christie.
Former Port Authority Chairman Samson is one of Governor Christie’s closest political allies and was a major player in both of Christie’s successful gubernatorial campaigns. Although Wildstein has already claimed Governor Christie was directly involved in Bridgegate, there do not appear to be any indictments coming. But, if Samson rolls on Christie to get out of an indictment that could lead to him dying in prison, Christie might be returning to a federal courtroom as something other than a prosecutor.