Call It Coincidence, or Corruption

Or for those with a bias for the plausible, there is the alternative version of how this flight came into being, first reported in February by The Record, and then elaborated in delectable detail this week by Bloomberg Business.

The flights are now part of a federal investigation into operatives of Gov. Chris Christie at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that began with the infamous traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013.

Two years earlier, over dinner at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan, David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority, entertained requests for help from executives with United Airlines, which has become the largest carrier at Newark Liberty International Airport since its merger with Continental.

United’s agenda — relayed at the dinner, and in later communications with Port Authority executives — included expansion of a hangar and improvements for its terminal. It also sought breaks in the lease payments to the Port Authority, arguing that it paid less at Kennedy International Airport. United’s chief executive, Jeff Smisek, was under pressure to find savings from the Continental merger.

During the dinner at Novita, Mr. Samson mentioned that his weekends in Aiken involved a 150-mile drive from Charlotte, N.C., the nearest city with direct service from Newark. According to the Bloomberg account, Mr. Samson asked if the direct service to Columbia, 100 miles nearer, could be instituted. “An awkward silence fell over the table,” Bloomberg reported.

The airline executives did not agree to the flight at the time, but did so, according to Bloomberg, after Mr. Samson told a lobbyist for United that he was holding up decisions on Port Authority projects important to the airline. Within a year, United was flying a mostly empty plane twice a week — Mondays and Thursdays — between Newark and Columbia. Mr. Samson is reported to have referred to it as “the chairman’s flight.”

Asked on Tuesday for Mr. Samson’s perspective on this arrangement, his spokeswoman, Karen J. Kessler, replied: “No further comment.”

United would say on Tuesday only that it was cooperating with the investigation. Federal prosecutors in New Jersey are also looking into how and why the George Washington Bridge traffic jam was instigated by patronage appointees of Mr. Christie. When Patrick J. Foye, the executive director of the authority, learned that the tie-ups were the result of deliberate lane closings by David Wildstein, an appointee of Mr. Christie, he ordered it brought to an immediate end. Mr. Foye had been appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who shares control of the Port Authority with Mr. Christie. Mr. Samson had been installed as chairman by Mr. Christie.

“Samson helping us to retaliate,” Mr. Wildstein wrote to Mr. Christie’s deputy chief of staff.

Mr. Foye had previously created a policy requiring that Port Authority commissioners, including Mr. Samson, disclose their personal involvement in business affairs of the authority and refrain from voting on them.

By ending the traffic jam, Mr. Samson complained by email, Mr. Foye was once again riding a “white horse.”

Last March, Randy Mastro, a lawyer hired by Mr. Christie and paid with public funds, announced that an internal investigation had “exonerated” the governor of wrongdoing in the traffic jam. The report was 360 pages, and Mr. Mastro characterized it as exhaustive. However exhausting or exhaustive it was, Mr. Mastro did not interview Mr. Samson, the closest and most powerful adviser to Mr. Christie at the Port Authority. It turned out that Mr. Samson had refused to cooperate, but Mr. Mastro’s report did not even hint at this until Page 156, where it mentioned Mr. Samson’s law firm, but not him. “Wolff & Samson declined our request for interviews and documents,” the report said.

Mr. Samson recently announced that he is retiring from his law practice.

As for Mr. Mastro, by the end of 2014, his law firm had been paid $7.4 million by the State of New Jersey. The clock is still running.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment