Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, rebuffed a request by lawyers for the office of Governor Chris Christie to interview her about her claims that his administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t back a real-estate development project.
Randy Mastro, an attorney representing Christie’s office, sent letters Feb. 4 seeking documents and interviews with Zimmer and four city employees. On Feb. 6, Zimmer’s lawyer Gerald Krovatin declined the request, writing that the mayor and the city are already cooperating with a probe by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in Newark, New Jersey.
“We question whether it is appropriate for the governor’s office, in essence, to be investigating itself, particularly when an investigation of the same subject matter is being conducted by the U.S. attorney’s office,” Krovatin wrote to Mastro of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
Fishman’s office is probing claims by Zimmer, a Democrat, that the administration of Christie, a Republican weighing a White House run, made the threat last year. Prosecutors and state lawmakers also are probing which of Christie’s allies ordered lane closures of the George Washington Bridge last September, creating traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Christie, whose approval ratings are sliding, denies claims by Zimmer that Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, also a Republican, threatened Zimmer. He also denies suggestions by Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, that the traffic tie-ups were related to the mayor not backing Christie’s re-election last fall. Christie denied any role in the lane closures and fired two aides.
Mastro wrote to Krovatin on Feb. 4, saying a team of five former federal prosecutors are “conducting a thorough review of the facts pertinent to Mayor Zimmer’s allegations.” Mastro sought a private interview with Zimmer to “further our mandate from the governor’s office to facilitate cooperation with the U.S. attorney’s investigation and complete an internal review.”
The letter also sought unredacted documents, including any handwritten notes or correspondence that “she considers to be relevant to these allegations,” and that she gave to prosecutors. Zimmer has said she gave a journal to prosecutors.
Mastro made similar requests for documents and interviews with Daniel Bryan, Zimmer’s chief of staff; Juan Melli, city communications director; and Councilmen David Mello and Ravinder S. Bhalla.
Zimmer “does not believe that it would be appropriate for her or city officials or employees to participate in your parallel investigation,” Krovatin wrote on Feb. 6.
“We fail to see how the requests that you have made would further your ‘mandate from the governor’s office to facilitate cooperation with the U.S. attorney’s investigation’ when the mayor and the city are already cooperating directly with that investigation,” wrote Krovatin of Krovatin Klingeman LLC.
Krovatin declined to comment on the probe today.
Hoboken Corporation Counsel Mellissa Longo wrote separately on Feb. 6 to Mastro on behalf of Bryan, Melli, Bhalla and Mello.
“It is the city’s position that it is wholly inappropriate for the city, its employees and elected officials to participate in the Office of the Governor’s parallel investigation of itself at this time,” Longo wrote.
In an e-mail today, Mastro declined to comment on the internal review while it’s being conducted.
“We are, of course, reaching out to request interviews of those who have made these allegations and others who may have information relevant to them,” Mastro said. “And we are communicating with investigators, consistent with our mandate to facilitate cooperation with those authorities.”
The Bergen Record reported the exchange of letters earlier.
Mello said today in an interview that his “first-blush impression” of the Mastro request was that it was inappropriate.
The councilman said he was one of the few people who Zimmer told about the interaction with Guadagno.
In a memo to the council on Jan. 22, Zimmer discussed her role in the federal investigation.
“I have met with and spoken at length with the U.S. attorney’s office regarding this situation, and I provided them with my journal and other documents,” Zimmer wrote. “As their investigation proceeds, they have asked me to refrain from giving any additional interviews and I am respecting that request.”