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Scandal rains on Christie victory parade

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gestures during a news conference, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gestures during a news conference, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.

Supporters of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who paid $500 to attend his inaugural celebration might be in for a less triumphant event than they originally thought.

The Republican will mark his landslide re-election victory with a lavish inauguration Tuesday, which includes plans of a day-long affair ending in a party on Ellis Island. The celebration, originally billed as an event to honor the governor, is just the latest high-profile event for Christie timed as he attempts to divert attention away from his administration embroiled in scandal. Tuesday’s piece of political theater is unlikely include any nod to the ongoing investigation into whether members of Christie’s staff closed off one of the most trafficked bridges in the country as possible political retribution.

Now, in addition to beginning his second term under the cloud of 20 new subpoenas over “Bridgegate,” Christie must contend with allegations that he held hostage much-needed relief funding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Hitting Christie while he was already down, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said in an exclusive interview Saturday on UP w/ Steve Kornacki that the Christie administration showed a history of political bullying tactics after two high-ranking officials tried to strong-arm her into approving a major redevelopment deal in exchange for Hurricane Sandy relief money. Zimmer confirmed she met with the U.S. attorney for the state of New Jersey on Sunday and offered to testify under oath that she was threatened by the governor's staff.

Christie’s office hit back hard against Zimmer’s assertions, issuing a statement that decried the story as part of a partisan attack on the part of MSNBC. His office and a spokesperson for Richard Constable, Christie’s commissioner of community affairs and one of the officials Zimmer accused of threatening her, both categorically denied her allegations.

A fundraising trip to Florida over the weekend could have been an opportunity to showcase Christie's star power and cement relationships with potential donors; Christie has left the door open to a presidential bid in 2016, and now wields new influence as the freshly-minted head of the Republican Governor’s Association. Instead, the governor kept his activities and appearances in the Sunshine State under wraps. Events for Republican Gov. Rick Scott were closed to the press. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, questioned why a party star as bright as Christie would hold zero public events. “Either Chris Christie doesn’t want to face the press or Governor Scott doesn’t want to be seen publicly with Chris Christie, who is an embattled governor, and I think it’s probably a little bit of both,” she said.

While many politicians have avoided making statements about Christie’s problems, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has stuck by the governor’s side. Giuliani called the investigation into the lane closures at the bridge “a partisan witch hunt” on Meet the Press. The controversial former city leader also said that New Jersey State Assemblyman John Wisniewski , the chairman of the committee in charge of the investigation, should step down.

In his own appearance on Meet the Press, Wisniewski stressed that Zimmer’s allegations needed to be taken seriously because they come within the context of other allegations of political bullying and retribution. “We have to give the allegations serious thought, because it is a pattern that we’ve heard time and time again throughout New Jersey,” he said.

Despite the attempts by the governor’s office to dismiss the bridge scandal and the allegations of Zimmer and other Democratic mayors who have come forward, at least one of Christie’s allies is taking things seriously enough to hire big name representation. David Samson, a Christie ally facing a subpoena in the bridge investigation and whose lawfirm represented the real estate developer that would have benefitted from the project Zimmer said she was pressured to approve, has hired former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff to represent him.