An internal investigation New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) ordered found none of his aides threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy aid for Hoboken in exchange for the approval of a development project. [READ INVESTIGATORS' REPORT.]
In January, after the bridge scandal unfolded, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer first alleged that the Christie administration withheld Sandy funding as an act of political retaliation. Zimmer didn't endorse Christie for reelection, after his office courted her several times.
She later backtracked and accused New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) of threatening to deny the aid in May 2013, unless a development project proposed by the Rockefeller Group moved forward in Hoboken. Zimmer also accused other members of the Christie administration of making similar threats.
Zimmer’s allegations “are not only unsubstantiated, but demonstrably false in material respects,” said Randy Mastro, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher's lead lawyer, who conducted the internal probe.
Some might question the internal probe because the lawyers failed to interview crucial players on the bridge and Sandy aid issues. One of the law firm’s partners is also friendly with Christie, The New York Times reported earlier this week.
Separate government reviews of the allegations at the New Jersey state legislature and the U.S. attorney’s office are still pending.
Lawyers who compiled the internal probe interviewed Guadagno and others involved in the distribution of Sandy funding in New Jersey.
Zimmer, her chief of staff, her communications director and other Hoboken officials declined the law firm’s invitations to cooperate with the investigation and provide relevant documents, investigators said.
“We find that Mayor Zimmer’s allegations do not withstand scrutiny and that her subjective perceptions do not match objective reality,” the investigators concluded, adding that Zimmer contradicted herself multiple times.
Zimmer had applied for $100 million in grants from New Jersey to prevent future flooding in her town. She said Hoboken, however, only received $300,000.
In a series of media interviews in January, Zimmer blamed the Christie administration for the lack of funding and revealed a confrontation she had eight months earlier with Guadagno in May.
Zimmer said the lieutenant governor warned her in a parking lot of a ShopRite supermarket that she would receive less Sandy recovery money if she didn’t endorse the Rockefeller Group project.
Guadagno denied Zimmer’s claims and said Zimmer was the one to approach her in the grocery store’s parking lot after an event to raise issues with Sandy aid.
The report explained the allocation of Sandy funding was prioritized and had to be distributed in stages. Zimmer’s funding requests, for example, were mostly for infrastructure projects, but initial funds that were available were not for that purpose.
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher lawyers concluded in their report that Sandy aid was not tied to politics.
“Every person we interviewed involved in allocating and administering Sandy aid programs confirmed that politics played no role whatsoever in the allocation of these funds, and that Sandy aid has never been tied to any political favor, such as an endorsement or support for a favored private development project,” the report said.
A Hoboken board last year rejected the Rockefeller Group’s request for its project. Even though the development didn’t move forward, the report said the town “did not suffer any negative consequences in Sandy aid outcomes.”
Hoboken has received much of the funding it applied for, the report said, except for its total request for hazard mitigation grant money. The report said aides to Christie tried to help Hoboken acquire more recovery funding.
“After interviewing dozens of witnesses inside and outside the Christie Administration, and reviewing reams of documents, we have found no support for Mayor Zimmer’s allegations.”
Municipalities in New Jersey are still expected to receive additional recovery money.