It was Shakespeare who famously, or infamously, talked about killing all lawyers. Scholars may debate whether that observation was merely symbolic, but more than 400 years later, there’s no debate about the sheer craziness of some legal advice.
That’s an obvious conclusion after another five-plus hours of testimony Tuesday before a special Legislative Committee in Trenton about allegations one key staffer in the governor’s administration may have raped another.
Peter Cammarano, the governor’s outgoing chief of staff, was the third and last witness and his testimony, by design or not, included something remarkable. He said he first heard of the allegations by Katie Brennan against Al Alvarez in late 2017. That was before Governor Phil Murphy was sworn-in. A number of other high-ranking members of the Murphy team also were aware of the charge Brennan was sexually assaulted by Alvarez in April of 2017. Brennan was- and is – chief of staff for a state housing agency; Alvarez had the same position with the School Development Authority.
And we learned at a previous hearing that Brennan had emailed the governor and his wife directly in June wishing to bring a “sensitive” matter to their attention. She did not specifically mention the alleged assault. But many in the governor’s inner circle knew about it.
But not Murphy himself.
Cammarano, astonishingly, testified that no one told the governor what was going on. He said that the governor only learned about the incident when a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, which
eventually was to write a story detailing the alleged assault, began asking state officials about it.
So, we had a situation where one high-ranking official in the Murphy administration may have raped another and no one told the governor?
Lawmakers from both parties were aghast.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz of Essex County wondered how the administration could be so dysfunctional.
“To me, this is kind of astounding,” added state Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County.
Why didn’t Cammarano, nor any other official, tell Murphy what was up?
Cammarano said that the governor’s chief counsel, Matt Platkin, advised against it. Cammarano labored to say he had to follow legal advice, but did admit that there were times when he wished he would
have informed Murphy about Brennan’s accusation.
Not telling the governor is not only hard to believe, it puts Murphy in the position of not knowing about a growing scandal in his own house, so to speak. That hardly makes him look good.
Another witness was Charles McKenna, who had his own tale of concealment to talk about.
McKenna more than once said he was a “Christie guy” and no one challenged him on that one. He served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office when Chris Christie was there and also served as chief counsel when
Christie became governor. McKenna briefly ran the School Development Authority as a holdover when Murphy came into office. That made him Alvarez’ boss – by default. McKenna described Alvarez’ hiring as “unique,” meaning that his hiring had much to do with politics and little to do with anything else. Of course, there’s nothing unique about that in politics, but that wasn’t the point of McKenna’s
After noting that his only introduction to the man who became his chief of staff was a 30 to 45-minute meeting in a local Starbucks, McKenna said Alvarez was a good employee who came to work every day
and did his job.
Then we came to June 6, 2017, which is known in the real world as the anniversary of D-Day. But on this day in Trenton, McKenna said he was summoned by Platkin, Murphy’s chief counsel, and told that Alvarez had to go. Or rather in political speak, he was told that Alvarez had to “step back” from his public job. This was five days after Brennan wrote to the governor and the first lady about the assault. So, it was that email that obviously prompted McKenna’s meeting with Platkin.
But McKenna said he never was told by Platkin why Alvarez had to go, nor did he ask.
Again, there was surprise to say the least among the legislators.
“You really didn’t want to know what the issue was?” said a quizzical Kristin Corrado, a Republican senator from Passaic County.
McKenna said he presumed that his superiors did not want him to know.
Corrado was not satisfied, saying, “I would have wanted to know.”
Another Republican, Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce of Morris County, cleverly looking to score political points, asked McKenna if the administration was keeping him in the dark because he was a “Christie guy.”
No, McKenna said, he didn’t think so. So, you can call this bipartisan concealment.
In the morning session, Brennan’s friend, Justin Braz, who she told about the alleged assault, testified that he told Cammarano, Platkin and a lawyer for the transition team about it, but didn’t go further
than that. Pressed as to why not, he said he did what Brennan wanted him to do. He also said that it was not his “purview” to tell the governor about the alleged assault. Braz is now deputy chief of staff
for legislative affairs.
There is another lingering issue here that needs exploration.
Cammarano testified that Alvarez was told he had to leave on March 26.
But he obviously was still around on June 6 when McKenna said he was instructed to tell Alvarez to “step back.” And he ended up staying until the Wall Street Journal began making inquiries in October. So without the newspaper’s questions and story, Alvarez may still be employed.
Watch politics for awhile and it’s hard to grasp why politicians on various levels and across ideological lines continue to make the same mistakes. When something embarrassing pops up, more times than not,
the tendency is to conceal it – sometimes even from your own people, or in this case apparently, the governor.
More than once, McKenna testified that Platkin told him the Brennan allegations needed to be kept quiet because the episode may blow up and get “ugly.”
Gee, it’s a good thing that didn’t happen.