Catching up with Christie scandals
(CNN) — More trouble was brewing back home this weekend for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie while he was in Florida raising money for Republican candidates.
Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken, said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno approached her in a parking lot last May and said her community would not receive Superstorm Sandy relief funds unless she backed a redevelopment program proposed by a group with ties to Christie.
“She said that to me … this is a direct message from the governor,” Zimmer told Candy Crowley on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Guadagno addressed Zimmer’s version of the conversation on Monday at a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday service project, calling them “not only false, but illogical.”
Zimmer’s allegation added a new twist to claims of political payback and bullying by the Christie administration, which is embroiled in a scandal that suggests top aides orchestrated traffic jams around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year to punish that town’s mayor for not endorsing the governor for reelection.
Christie, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, denies any knowledge of such a scheme and has fired or sought resignations from key appointees and political associates. A state legislative committee has issued subpoenas for documents and other materials related to the scandal.
Christie, himself, has not been subpoenaed, but his office has.
Here’s what you need to know to keep up:
She said/she said: Zimmer, who was elected to city hall after her predecessor was indicted on corruption charges in 2009, first made her allegations to MSNBC on Saturday. She went further on Sunday.
“Now the fact is that she came. (The) lieutenant governor pulled me aside and said essentially, you got to move forward with the Rockefeller project. This project is really important to the governor. And she said that she had been with him Friday night and that this was a direct message from the Governor.”
But Guadagno recalled events differently than Zimmer, telling a crowd in Union Beach: “Mayor Zimmer’s version of our conversation in May of 2013 is not only false but is illogical and does not withstand scrutiny when all of the facts are examined. Any suggestion that Sandy funds were tied to the approval of any project in New Jersey is completely false.”
Guadagno’s statement Monday was the firstto address the most recent allegations she said at a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday event in Union Beach, New Jersey.
A source close to Guadagno told CNN’s Chris Frates Sunday night: “Kim remembers in their conversation that she was talking about redevelopment and making investments in Hoboken. She remembers Zimmer pressing Kim for money for Sandy. Kim remembers saying you can’t tie the two together,” the source said. “And she remembers Zimmer continuing to press and showing her a map of the city and pressing for aid for Sandy.”
Is Christie talking?: He’s not, but his spokesman, Collin Reed, said Sunday, “It’s very clear partisan politics are at play here as Democratic mayors with a political ax to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television.”
Zimmer’s talking to more than TV: After telling her story on CNN, Zimmer had another interview — this one with federal investigators. In a statement Sunday, Zimmer said she met with U.S. attorney’s investigator “for several hours at their request.” And that she provided 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,” Zimmer said in the statement.
Shortly after Guadagno spoke, Zimmer released a statement saying, “I met with the U.S. Attorney for over two hours yesterday, answered all their questions and turned over my journal in which I described my conversation with the Lieutenant Governor and Commissioner Constable. I stand by my word, remain willing to testify under oath, and I will continue to answer any questions asked of me by the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
Where was Christie?: He was raising money in Florida for incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign and meeting with big Republican donors.
CNN political contributor Ana Navarro tweeted from the donors meeting that when asked about 2016, Christie replied, “Come see me next year.”
About the scandals in New Jersey, Navarro tweeted Christie said, “I haven’t enjoyed the last 11 days; no sane person would. Life presents challenges. u have to deal w/them.”
Navarro said Christie looked very different between Satuday’s events and Sunday’s, saying the governor looked rested and more upbeat on Sunday.
Christie connections: The Wolff and Samson law firm represents The Rockefeller Group, the real estate group trying to do the development in Hoboken. Port Authority Chairman David Samson, a Christie appointee, is a founding member of the firm.
Lori Grifa of Wolff & Samson is the former community affairs commissioner for New Jersey. Zimmer showed MSNBC an email from Grifa lobbying on behalf of the project and asking to speak with her.
Coming to Christie’s defense: Seaside Height Mayor Bill Akers, a Republican who has publicly endorsed Christie, said he found what Zimmer had to say “surprising” and that “it just doesn’t fit” with the Governor that he knows.
Akers said after Sandy, he worked with many Mayors along the shore, both Republicans and Democrats, and hasn’t heard anyone talk about undue pressure from the Governor’s office.
“I think he’s been even-handed, he genuinely cares,” Akers said. “What you see is what you get with the Governor.”
Did Hoboken receive any Sandy money?: Christie’s office said it did. Reed, Christie’s spokesman, told CNN that Zimmer asked for $100 million from a roughly $300 million pot of money for which there was $14 billion worth of requests.
Since that request, Reed said, Hoboken has been approved for nearly $70 million in aid. The city has also been identified as a pilot community for a federal program to prevent flooding, one of only four such projects in New Jersey.
But Zimmer had a different take: “I think we really got shortchanged on the funding.”
She said the $70 million given to Hoboken was mostly from flood insurance that did not need approval from the state. She received only $300,000 in Christie-approved funds, she said.
What does this have to do with a bridge?: It doesn’t — that’s a separate scandal, one of the three in which Christie is currently snarled.
The bridge scandal concerns lane closures in Fort Lee near the congested George Washington Bridge. Members of Christie’s staff have been implicated in closing the lanes for political payback.
Two members of the Port Authority have lost their jobs over it and so have two close Christie aides.
The state and federal government are also investigating, but there hasn’t been any evidence that Christie was directly involved.
Then there’s those tourism ads in which Christie and his family appear. The company that won the contract to produce the ads — and included a role for Christie — bid almost twice as much as the low bidder, which didn’t include Christie.
Christie’s troubles are no laughing matter: Except on “Saturday Night Live.”
By Leigh Ann Caldwell