Former Assemblyman John Wisniewski co-ran the Legislative Select Committee investigating Bridgegate. He also ran for governor in 2017 in a Democratic Primary ultimately won by Phil Murphy.
So when legislative leadership began forming another committee to examine the hiring practices in the Murphy Administration, Wisniewski naturally took an interest.
InsiderNJ caught up with the former assemblyman this weekend.
“Number one, what happened in the Hudson Prosecutor’s Office? It seems to me to be a built in conflict of interest,” said Wisniewski, referring to the operation led by Prosecutor Esther Suarez, which did not pursue a prosecution of attorney Al Alvarez following Katie Brennan’s complaint to the prosecutor’s office that he had raped her.
“It’s mystifying why there wasn’t some attempt at a prosecution,” the former lawmaker added, citing stories referring to Alvarez and Suarez knowing each other professionally in the past and speculation about Suarez short-listed for attorney general in the Murphy Administration. Suarez defenders point out that she knew Brennan, too, and say she did not know about the case.
Wisniewski said he believes the sexual assault charge is better left to law enforcement at this time, noting the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s handling of the case.
As for the Legislative Select Committee, “What can be investigated is what did the transition team know, and when did they know it. How Al Alvarez gets a job when this was known [Brennan’s charge of sexual assault] deserves to be understood.”
Wisniewski described as critical the committee’s independence in being allowed to pursue the case.
“The committee must be given the ability to pursue the investigation wherever it may lead, as opposed to being filtered through third parties, which is what happened in Bridgegate,” he said.
Wisniewski praised the Senate Majority Office’s hiring of criminal lawyer Michael Critchley, whom he described as “excellent.” But – again citing his Bridgegate experience – said the majority office would be wise to also hire a gumshoe type, a retired detective or FBI agent, to complement Critchley.
[Bridgegate Select Committee Special Counsel] “Reid Schar was an accomplished prosecutor, but I’m not sure his skill set was how to structure an investigation,” Wisniewski said.
As for Murphy’s announcement of former Attorney General Peter Veniero to command an independent investigation, “That’s a head scratcher,” the former lawmaker said. “On the one hand I get it, here he was attorney general and well-credentialed, but the negative stuff about racial profiling diminishes his luster.”