At first, as scandals involving their cities started to unfold this month, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (D) couldn’t talk enough.
When new documents revealed the administration of Gov. Chris Christie (R) was behind the decision to close access lanes onto the George Washington Bridge, Sokolich went on both CNN and MSNBC that night.
Zimmer broke her story on MSNBC last Saturday, and she appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week” the next day. She detailed how she says members of the Christie administration — Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s commissioner of community affairs — used Hurricane Sandy relief funds as leverage to pressure her to support a development project in Hoboken.
But now, both Sokolich and Zimmer — along with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, another who has claimed he was a target of political retribution — have clammed up.
For Zimmer, that decision came after a request from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, which is investigating her case along with the George Washington Bridge lane closures. On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office subpoenaed documents he Gov. Chris Christie re-election campaign and the New Jersey Republican State Committee.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has asked that we not conduct additional media interviews and we are respecting their request,” Zimmer said in a statement Wednesday. “I stand by my previous statements and remain willing to testify under oath about all of the facts in this case.”
It’s not clear if the same request was made to Sokolich. Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, told Business Insider that the office “does not publicly discuss whether or not we have had specific meetings or conversations.”
Business Insider was scheduled to meet with Sokolich during a recent trip to Fort Lee. But Maryanne Leodori, an assistant to the mayor, sent out an email the morning of the trip to advise that the mayor was no longer accepting interviews. Since this seemed like an abrupt turn for Sokolich, who was the featured guest on “Meet the Press” the day before, we asked for further explanation.
“I had an opportunity to speak with Mayor Sokolich about 20 minutes ago and he advised that at this time, he has spoken to the press and has said what he needed to say,” Leodori wrote back. “
“The Mayor would like the fact finders to do their job. The Mayor will not be making any more statements. If circumstances dictate, he will certainly make a statement, but until then, I am sorry that we can not accommodate you at this time.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s request for silence with the press is relatively standard protocol, according to a former Justice Department official who spoke with Business Insider on Thursday. But it does mean that the office is treating the cases with a higher profile and, most likely, a higher level of importance.
The Justice Department often asks for radio silence because they don’t want other people to know what witnesses are saying.
“You can imagine why,” the official said. “When they go to someone and interview them, they want to have the benefit of having as much information as possible. And they don’t want that person to know what they know, because then they have a chance to change their story or to destroy documents or do anything else to ‘get ready.’
“They don’t want other people who are potentially implicated in the case to know that they might be exposed.”
The other reason is that giving interviews makes it easier for witnesses to be impeached in court. The more interviews a subject gives to the press, the more likely it is that their version of the story in court will contain small, different nuances that could be used against them.
It’s unclear, however, why Fulop has stopped talking, after pressing his case for months that members of the Christie administration have canceled meetings and not returned phone calls following Fulop’s refusal to endorse Christie for re-election. Fulop’s allegations are not part of the U.S. Attorney’s investigations.
Fulop issued a statement “correcting” Christie the day of his mea-culpa press conference, repeating his allegations that the Christie administration and Port Authority have rejected and canceled numerous planned meetings over the past six months.
“Nearly every single meeting we have requested with State commissioners with regard to proactive Jersey City issues has been unfortunately rejected over the last six months, along with countless requests we made to the Port Authority,” Fulop said in the statement.
“Cancellations include an entire day of meetings with state commissioners scheduled to be in Jersey City that was abruptly cancelled, with each of the commissioners individually cancelling within an hour of the time I communicated my intention to not endorse.”
But Fulop’s aides subsequently refused to talk even off the record about anything related to Christie. One New Jersey Democratic source speculated that Fulop is trying to strike the right balance in being a vocal source of opposition to Christie while setting himself up for a possible run for governor in 2017.
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