TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie has spent the past few days putting up traffic cones to separate himself from scandal.
The usually garrulous Republican governor and possible 2016 presidential contender had avoided news conferences and interviews for more than two months until Thursday, the day a report he commissioned cleared him of any involvement in the politically motivated plot to create a huge traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge last year.
With investigations by federal prosecutors and state lawmakers still looming, Christie also submitted to an interview Thursday with Diane Sawyer on ABC and another set to air Friday on Fox News.
And a vintage, defiant Christie re-emerged Friday at a Statehouse news conference in which he cracked jokes, jousted with reporters and acknowledged the toll of the scrutiny.
“There is no question this shakes your confidence,” he said. “If it doesn’t, you’re arrogant.”
Christie defended the integrity of the taxpayer-funded report clearing him. It was produced by lawyers chosen by his office.
He boldly laid down a solid double line in the road.
“I think the report will stand the test of time,” he said, “and it will be tested by the other investigations that are going on.”
Democrats have blasted the findings as a whitewash and a one-sided and incomplete piece of work, noting that the two Christie allies accused of engineering the traffic jam by ordering lane closings refused to cooperate with the lawyers.
But Christie said the lawyers would not “give away their reputations to do some kind of slipshod job for me.”
The report portrayed the governor as a careful yet emotional leader who looked into the eyes of his top staffers as he asked what they knew about the lane closings.
It was deeply critical of the one-time Christie aide and the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official who are suspected of orchestrating the gridlock in apparent payback against a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Christie for re-election.
Republicans beyond New Jersey remain uncertain about Christie’s ability to recover politically ahead of the 2016 White House contest. But Hogan Gidley, a veteran Republican political operative, said: “It’s clearly been a good week for Chris Christie.”
Ed Borden, a Democrat and former New Jersey prosecutor who has been hired to do independent reports for some government entities, said he found the report on the traffic jam to be thorough but was troubled by the tone.
“It does not come off sounding like an even-handed weighing of evidence but rather as a brief on behalf of the governor,” he said.
Also Friday, Christie announced the resignation of David Samson as chairman of the Port Authority, which runs the bridge.
Samson, a former New Jersey attorney general, was a Christie appointee who has not been accused of involvement in the lane closings but whose business dealings came under scrutiny in recent months as the scandal unfolded.
Samson’s law firm was representing a business that was undertaking a redevelopment project in Hoboken. Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of that city, has said that members of Christie’s cabinet threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid unless she backed the plan. Christie’s administration denies that accusation.
Samson also was the subject of reports this year that found businesses he represented may have benefited from Port Authority actions.
He said in a statement that he had planned to step down from the chairman job anyway.
Today, Christie is set to appear at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s conference in Las Vegas, where he will speak to some of the party’s most influential donors.
Other prospective presidential candidates were on the agenda, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Their stock has risen because of Christie’s struggles.
Some donors gathered in Las Vegas suggested that Christie has a major opportunity to revive his image. The unofficial host of gathering, major Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, previously held a fundraiser for Christie but is openly seeking a new presidential candidate to support in 2016.