Alex Witt   |  January 19, 2014

NJ lawmakers call for new investigation

Alex Witt talks to NBC’s Michael Isikoff and Kelly O’Donnell about the latest on the allegations from Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> let's go now to the day's other big story . new jersey lawmakers are now calling for an investigation into the latest allegations levelled against aides of new jersey governor chris christie . hoboken mayor dawn zimmer says that two officials held up hurricane sandy relief money unless she approved a redevelopment project. meanwhile, governor christie 's in florida this weekend. he's on a fundraising drive for rick scott . michael isikoff and kelly o'donnell. we'll start with you, michael. here's a portion of the statement from governor christie 's office. it says "the governor and mayor zimmer have had a productive relationship with mayor zimmer even recently saying she's very glad he's been our governor. it's very clear partisan politics are at play here as democratic mayors with a political axe to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television." the christie aides are strongly denying these allegations, so how seriously are state lawmakers taking it?

>> quite seriously. there are a couple points worth making here. number one, these allegations are particularly damaging because they go to the core of governor christie 's signature issue. helping victims of hurricane sandy. what the mayor of hoboken dawn zimmer has said is that the christie administration held up funding for her city, for sandy recovery because she didn't back this development project that was being represented by one of christie 's top political advisers. now, what the pushback we're getting from the christie camp is, look, why didn't mayor zimmer say this before? she says, by her own account, that this threat she got from the lieutenant governor, from christie 's lieutenant governor came last may. but in august, a few months later, she was tweeting how happy she was to have governor christie as her governor. she didn't come forward during the election campaign. actually, there was kind of a sideswipe today from barbara buono , christie 's democratic opponent last year, saying why did she wait until she smelled blood in the water. that's a question that dawn zimmer is going to have to answer. but third, this is probably the most significant, what state lawmakers are saying, they're planning to look into this and the resolution that authorized that special legislative panel is very broad, giving them power not just to issue subpoenas and investigate the george washington bridge traffic jams, but any other abuse of government power. that is open-ended language that essentially gives them carte blanche to look into this and any other allegation that comes forward.

>> michael, we've been following the sunday talk shows. i want to play a clip of christie ally rudy giuliani . he was talking about assemblyman john wisniewski . let's look at that.

>> when you announce even before you investigate you don't believe the subject of the investigation or the person who's the ultimate focus of the investigation, it would seem to me the assemblyman has an ethical obligation to step down and recuse himself.

>> i know that you interviewed wisniewski last weekend. how was he approaching these investigations? i believe he has just issued a statement to refute what rudy giuliani is saying.

>> he's saying he's been investigating this for months, taking it piece by piece . it was only when the e-mails emerged that contradicted the public accounts of the governor's office that he escalated the probe, widened it, got the resolution giving him new subpoena power. so he's defending himself. but the fact is that he's made some very strong statements basically saying he doesn't believe governor christie 's account saying it lacks credibility. and that does give fodder for mayor giuliani and other allies to take swipes at him. and remember, governor christie 's language in that state of the state is very significant here. he's saying he will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries. that gives him the out to say what wisniewski is doing isn't appropriate, it's a political witch hunt .

>> okay. michael isikoff , thank you for that. meantime, while all of this is happening back home, governor christie spent this weekend in florida . he's been raising money for governor rick scott as well as the republican governors association . let's go now to kelly o'donnell, who is on the trail in palm beach with him. what sort of reaction has the governor received there?

>> well, alex, this is a target rich environment. palm beach in january to meet important donors in the republican party . and because there are so many roots in new jersey and new york for people who make a part of their winter here, it's a familiar turf in many respects. i'm told that he was well received, and there was strong applause and support for him inside some of these events, and of course, again, we're talking about republican supporters who have turned out to contribute money for florida governor rick scott in some of the events and for the republican party . so these are people who are already animated politically. they enjoy being involved. and they had an opportunity to see one of the most talked about figures in politics up close. and it just so happens to be at this time when he's facing so many political troubles at home. so part of what this new role for chris christie involves is this kind of travel. and he's got an ambitious schedule and plans for raising money for the rga. despite troubles at home, chris christie takes hold of his national place in politics this weekend. mixing with big donors at private fundraisers for florida governor rick scott . but no plans for christie and scott to appear together publicly. christie has kept his fundraising schedule. including a thursday night event for a new jersey senate candidate.

>> the florida events were scheduled a long time ago. only invite criticism. he's doing the right thing by going out and doing these.

>> reporter: but it's tricky trying to balance business with ongoing damage control over the bridge scandal.

>> if i were him, i'd hold back on the donor politics for a little while. just because it's going to fuel the fire of all this chatter about his political ambitions and now's not the best time to have that go on.

>> reporter: this florida trip is a test of christie 's star status, becoming chair of the republican governors association just eight weeks ago. are you getting encouragement?

>> yeah, everybody's excited that i'm going to take over the chairmanship and i'm getting great response both from donors and from my fellow governors.

>> reporter: the rga hopes to raise as much as $100 million this year with christie at the helm, and has more than $45 million in the bank.

>> my focus is going to be raising the funds that are necessary to be able to get the story to these governors out.

>> reporter: democrats say christie is now damaged.

>> the pattern is continuing to develop. i think it's going to start to spiral out of control for chris christie because this is a clear case of where there's smoke, there's even more fire.

>> reporter: for now, fellow republican governors are standing behind christie .

>> i think the bottom line is he stepped up. i think any of us as governor, democrat or republican alike, if there's a challenge in the administration, you step up, acknowledge it, deal with it.

>> reporter: and surveys, including our own nbc maris poll suggest christie may have weathered the storm short-term.

>> what he needs to do, get back to work being governor. get back to policy. get back to issues people care about. if i were him, i'd stay out of politics for a while while this kind of cools off.

>> reporter: one of the big events say is at the home of the billionaire co-founder of home dep depot. why that's so important, it's an event for outreach to try to bring in donors to the republican party . maybe some of those folks will be people christie has not had an opportunity to get to know, along with the finance circuit, as it's called. and that could be more of a test of how this scandal environment might be affecting his national stature. so that's something that may play out over time . he does have other events scheduled in texas and illinois next month. so at least at this point, his plans to be visible and visible nationally go on. alex?

>> okay, kelly o'donnell, thank you for that from palm beach . appreciate it.