By Michael Hill
This is the Aiken, South Carolina house former Port Authority Chairman David Samson traveled to aboard those United Airlines flights. They’re ones he himself allegedly deemed the ‘chairman’s flight’ that departed Newark on Thursday nights and returned from Columbia, South Carolina on Monday mornings. The flights were arranged after Samson had dinner with United’s then-CEO Jeff Smisek, and during the time the Port Authority was considering United’s push to expand its foothold at Newark Liberty International Airport – which the Port Authority runs.
On Tuesday, Smisek, along with two other United executives, resigned after the nation’s third largest carrier’s internal investigation — an investigation launched when the airlines received subpoenas from federal investigators this year.
The money losing, non-stop, 50-seat flights – according to published reports – flew only half full at best. They lasted for 19 months and ended three days after Samson resigned on March 2014 from the Port Authority amid the Bridgegate scandal.
United says it’s still cooperating with US Attorney Paul Fishman’s probe. While Samson’s spokesperson calls it a United matter, the legal world sees it as the feds building a case for indictments to follow.
Ellen Torregrossa-O’Connor is a former Ocean County prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney.
“Many facts remain unknown right now but, if as you suggest there is a Nexis, or even an actual quid pro quo, an exchange of official action in exchange for some gratuities or some benefits to a public official, then I think we both know the answer to where something like that will go,” said Torregrossa-O’Connor.
Samson is a close political ally of Governor Christie and neither responded to our calls for comment. The governor appointed Samson to the Port Authority and allegedly was directly involved in the Samson-Smisek talks about United’s operations at the airport.
“Any time you say Bridgegate it hurts Chris Christie. It doesn’t matter what the context is. Even something as obscure as the Samson chairman’s flights,” said Seton Hall University Political Science professor Matt Hale.
Hale says this doesn’t bode well for the presidential candidate’s sudden call for a return of police to stop and frisk on the streets.
“I certainly think it makes his law and order message a little bit more difficult for him to deliver with a straight face. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to do it. Law and order seems to be selling as his calling card and I would expect him to keep doing it no matter what happens with the Samson investigation,” he said.
Hale points out Christie’s the only one in the race with former US Attorney on his resume, which is the same office that’s investigating and prosecuting his political appointees.
Michael joined Mary Alice on set to discuss what lawmakers saying about whether this will have an impact on Port Authority reform.
“They say this should make a really easy case,” Hill said. “Senator Bob Gordon of Bergen county says the headlines keep crying out for reform and you would think this would be easy to accomplish. He says many of those reforms making national news likely would not have happened, and maybe those stories making national news, likely would not have happened, if both sides of the Hudson would accept deals that should not be taking place in the shadows. They should be taken place in plain light. He says the headlines will keep coming, but so should reforms. The governors of both states who run the port authority need to commit to transparency and accountability. Senator Gordon said — look — this is not hard stuff it’s really common sense, but Mary Alice as the saying goes, ‘common sense ain’t common.'”