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Chris Christie Stands by Friend Guilty in Airline Bribery Scheme

David Samson acknowledged using his position at the Port Authority to pressure United Airlines to reinstate a flight that benefited him

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    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waves to the crowd as he walks on stage to deliver a speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

    Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is standing by his friend and mentor who pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme involving the powerful transportation agency Christie appointed him to lead.

    Christie said Wednesday that David Samson, who acknowledged using his position to pressure United Airlines to reinstate a flight that benefited him, is an "extraordinary person" and is "my friend and always will be."

    Christie made his remarks in Cleveland, where he's supporting presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

    Samson is a former New Jersey attorney general who headed Christie's transition team. Christie appointed him chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs area bridges, tunnels and transit hubs, in 2011.

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    Samson admitted last week that he pressured United to reinstate a weekend flight between Newark, New Jersey, and South Carolina, near his second home. His sentencing is scheduled for October.

    The Chicago-based airline, a division of United Continental Holdings Inc., ended the money-losing flight shortly after Samson resigned in early 2014.

    Christie told reporters on Wednesday that Samson "obviously had a lapse in judgment."

    "I've made mistakes in my life, and I'm sure that everyone standing in this group has made mistakes in theirs, and I would hope that we don't judge the totality of somebody's life in one lapse of judgment," he said.

    Sean Rayford/Getty Images

    His comments came hours after his impassioned speech Tuesday night, when he denounced presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for matters including a federal investigation into her use of a private email server while she was U.S. secretary of state.

    Christie on Wednesday also defended former United lobbyist Jamie Fox, whom he named the state's transportation commissioner in 2014. Fox was charged by federal prosecutors last week with conspiracy to commit bribery and has vowed to fight the charge.

    Christie called Fox "a very worthwhile and worthy public servant" who "has been convicted of absolutely nothing."

    United agreed to pay a $2.25 million penalty for its role in the scheme.

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    Samson was head of the Port Authority in the fall of 2013, when access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed without warning, causing massive traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

    A federal indictment unsealed last year alleged Christie's former deputy chief of staff and another Christie appointee to the Port Authority orchestrated the gridlock to punish the town's Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie. They're scheduled for trial in November. A second Christie associate at the Port Authority has pleaded guilty.

    Neither Samson nor Christie was charged in that case.