Christie's problems deepen amid new bullying allegations

Last Updated Jan 19, 2014 10:35 PM EST

A scandal sparked by allegations of strong-arm tactics on the part of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration deepened Sunday when a prominent mayor met with federal investigators to discuss her accusation that Christie’s administration tied relief funds for Hurricane Sandy to her approval of a major development project.

Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat and mayor of Hoboken, N.J., said she had met with officials from the U.S. attorney's office in Newark, N.J. She said the meeting came at investigators' request and lasted "several hours."

Zimmer said she turned over her journal and other documents.

"As they pursue this investigation, I will provide any requested information and testify under oath about the facts of what happened when the lieutenant governor came to Hoboken and told me that Sandy aid would be contingent on moving forward with a private development project," the mayor said in a statement.

Zimmer  first leveled the charge on MSNBC Saturday, saying several top state officials – including Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno - pushed her to fast-track the approval process for a highly sought development project. Zimmer said administration officials told her the project was “very important” to Christie, and that Sandy relief aid “would start flowing to you” if she approved it.

 Christie’s administration quickly denounced Zimmer’s account, saying the governor and the mayor have had a “productive relationship” and accusing Zimmer of playing “partisan politics” to get some television airtime for herself.

Christie spokesman Colin Reed followed up on that pushback Sunday with an itemized account of Sandy relief disbursement, arguing that "Hoboken has in no way trailed similarly situated communities in the receipt of rebuilding funds."

But on Sunday, Zimmer held fast to her story.

“I stand by my word," she told CNN. "They were holding our Sandy funds hostage."

Asked why she waited so long to disclose the episode, Zimmer said, “I didn’t think anybody would believe me.”

“Looking back, I probably should have come forward,” she said. “But quite frankly, if I come forward and nobody believes me, I would have put Hoboken in an even worse position. My number one priority as mayor of Hoboken is to fight to make sure that we get as many Sandy funds as possible, and I was really concerned that if I came forward and no one believed me, that we would really be cut out of Sandy funding.”

Zimmer predicted that if Guadagno is called to testify before lawmakers, “I think she will be truthful and the truth will come out.”

The episode has intensified scrutiny of the tactics and tenor of Christie’s administration, which was already fending off a scandal sparked by allegations that the governor’s team engineered a massive traffic jam on a busy bridge as political payback against a local mayor.
That controversy has already generated several investigations, including a probe by state lawmakers that will reportedly yield subpoenas next week for much of Christie’s inner circle.

The lawmaker leading that probe, N.J. Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said Sunday that his committee will broaden its purview to examine Zimmer’s claims.

“Mayor Zimmer is a serious voice. She's a well-respected mayor in New Jersey,” Wisniewski told NBC. “I think we have to give the allegations serious thought because it is a pattern that we've heard time and time again throughout New Jersey. She's perhaps one of the first mayors to come forward and say this specific thing happened."

“New Jersey politics is rough and tumble, and that's not going to change," he added. "But abusing power should not be condoned."

As the drama unfolds, Christie’s defenders have stood by their man, accusing New Jersey and national Democrats of piling on in an attempt to undermine a popular Republican governor who’s seen as a likely – and formidable – 2016 presidential aspirant.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close ally of Christie’s, wrote off the latest developments as the product of a “partisan witch hunt” Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“Clearly, this is a very, very well-orchestrated Democratic kind of organizational effort to try to hurt Governor Christie who, after all…was the only Republican who was beating Hillary Clinton in any poll at any time,” Giuliani argued.

The former mayor conceded the allegations about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge and the resulting traffic jam are “serious,” but he said Christie had “faced up to the allegations in a very serious way.”

“He held an hour-and-a-half press conference,” Giuliani said. “He held the people accountable who were responsible for it, something the president has failed to do with Benghazi, the president has failed to do with the IRS. He's given an example of a leader taking responsibility for something that…shouldn't have happened.”