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US attorney inquiry into Christie widens

The New Jersey mayor who publicly claimed that the Christie administration tried to withhold hurricane relief funds met Sunday with the U.S. attorney.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.

The New Jersey mayor who publicly claimed this weekend that Gov. Chris Christie's administration tried to withhold hurricane relief funds met Sunday in private with the U.S. attorney for the state of New Jersey.

“This afternoon I met with the U.S. Attorney’s office for several hours at their request and provided them with my journal and other documents," Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said in a statement Sunday. "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.”

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is expected to deny the allegations Monday morning and will be the first top official in Christie's administration to address Zimmer's charges.

Zimmer said Saturday in an interview with MSNBC that she would be willing to sign a sworn statement and testify under oath that she had been threatened by the governor's staff to approve a development project or risk hurricane relief funding for her town of Hoboken, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

The mayor's claims, repeated again in a second interview Sunday with CNN, have fueled public impressions of Christie's administration, which is already enveloped in a separate scandal of apparent political retribution aimed at another New Jersey town.

Christie's administration is now the subject of several federal and state inquiries, including one opened last week by the U.S. attorney for the state of New Jersey, Paul Fishman.

Christie has denied Zimmer's claims and contended on Saturday that $70 million in federal aid had been approved for Hoboken's relief efforts. But Zimmer countered on CNN Sunday, saying the majority of the funds that the governor is taking credit for came from the federal flood insurance program, and not through the relief aid Congress granted to New Jersey.

According to Zimmer, Guagdano and Christie’s commissioner of community affairs, Richard Constable, suggested she could get easier access to hurricane relief funds if she signed off on a major redevelopment project favored by the governor. 

“The bottom line is, it’s not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the City of Hoboken because he wants me to give back to one private developer,” Zimmer said in an interview onUP w/ Steve Kornacki

Constable and Christie – through spokespersons – denied Zimmer’s claims. Christie’s office later issued a second statement attacking MSNBC. “MSNBC is a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him, even taking the unprecedented step of producing and airing a nearly three-minute attack ad against him this week,” spokesman Colin Reed said.

Zimmer’s interview comes on the heels of a scandal in which other members of Christie’s inner circle conspired to create huge traffic swells, possibly in an act of political retribution, on another New Jersey town on the outskirts of Manhattan.

Christie has denied any knowledge of the plot that shut down lanes at the foot of the George Washington Bridge, one of the most heavily trafficked in the country. Inquires delving into what is now known as “Bridgegate” revved up last week when a legislative panel served 20 subpoenas to key members of New Jersey Republican's administration and campaign.

The latest account from Zimmer, who provided MSNBC documents and diary entries to support her claims, shows that Christie’s inner circle was willing to cut off devastated constituents, muscle a friendly mayor and arrange public funds to finance a study for a project the governor supported. In a news conference last week, Christie rejected the notion that his administration engages in retribution or seeks political payback. Zimmer’s account paints a different portrait.

Zimmer claims they leaned on her twice to get their way. By the second encounter, Zimmer said – this time with Constable – the 45-year-old mayor and mother of two young children was despondent, according to her own notes.

“I was emotional about governor Christie,” she wrote in a diary entry she provided that is dated May 17, 2013. “I thought he was honest. I thought he was moral. I thought he was something very different. This week I found out he’s cut from the same corrupt cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years.”

The allegations against the Christie administration caught the Republican governor just as he was on a fundraising trip to Florida over the weekend. The trip, alongside Republican Gov. Rick Scott, 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. 

The dark cloud hanging over the embattled governor will likely extend through this upcoming week. Christie will mark his landslide re-election victory with a lavish, day-long inauguration Tuesday that culminates with a party on Ellis Island.

Amanda Sakuma contributed to this report.