TRENTON – Amid yet another lengthy hearing Tuesday on the Katie Brennan rape allegation case, committee co-chair Loretta Weinberg offered an intriguing observation. Noting that a number of people in the Murphy administration were discussing aspects of the case as far back as last June, Weinberg, D-Bergen, said perhaps the only relevant individual not privy to what was being said was “the victim, “ – Brennan herself.
In what was now the bipartisan Select Committee’s third hearing in five weeks, two essential questions remain unanswered. Just why did no one apparently tell the governor what was happening and number two, why was the accused, Al Alvarez, allowed to keep his job with the School Development Authority for months after he was allegedly told to leave? And by late afternoon, it even got worse when Michael Critchley, a committee co-counsel, said his information was that Alvarez had gotten a $30,000 raise – increasing his salary to $170,000 a year – last August, which was either five months or two months (depending on which testimony you cite) after he was told to leave.
So as you can see, this is shaping up into one of those “Only in New Jersey” tales.
Parimal Garg, a deputy chief counsel in the governor’s office, was the first witness of the day; the next was Jonathan Berkon, who had been counsel to the Murphy for governor campaign. Both Brennan and Alvarez were associated with the campaign when she says he raped her in her Jersey City apartment in April of 2017.
Previous testimony revealed a widening group of high level campaign and later administration officials avoided telling the governor about the rape allegation. It was Critchley who crystallized things by saying everyone who testifies is pointing fingers at someone else.
“And we’re supposed to call balls and strikes,” he said. That line could have been coincidental, or it could have been tongue in cheek. In office for only one year, Murphy already has a reputation for sport analogies.
But there is the larger point here about assessing blame elsewhere. If you break it down, we are technically talking about three entities here – the campaign committee, the transition team after the November, 2017 election and now, the administration.
Berkon, a Washington D.C. attorney who seems to specialize in campaign legal advice, said he was made aware of the rape allegation in early June of 2018. That was when Brennan emailed Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy about a troubling incident that took place during the campaign. Berkon, who soon learned of that email and the allegation, which wasn’t in the email, didn’t relate the details of it to Murphy.
Committee members tried various ways to find out why.
Senator Teresa Ruiz, (D-Essex), said she would think that the email would have compelled him to act. Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin, (also D-Essex), a committee co-chair, said Berkon should have seen the email as a “red flag” and picked up the phone.
Berkon replied at one point that this was a matter of “dual jurisdiction,” meaning that while the alleged assault took place during the campaign, Alvarez and Brennan were no longer part of the campaign. Gee, that could have been because the campaign in June of 2018 was over. At any rate, because it was not strictly a “campaign matter,” there was no reason for him to act, he said.
Earlier in the day, Garg had said something similar. Critchley pointedly asked if the governor has the right to know if one senior official allegedly rapes another one. Essentially, the same question was asked by others in varying ways.
Garg struggled to answer, saying he couldn’t “speculate” as to whether the governor should have known, pointed out he didn’t know all the facts and also said that doing such a thing (telling Murphy about a rape allegation) was not his call.
At this point, one must wonder about basic common sense. Sure, there are various legal frameworks that may technically prevent someone from telling something to someone else. But there is also the real world.
And that is a place where people tell other people things they are not suppose to tell them. They do it because it makes sense. It happens all the time in politics; just ask any reporter.
If one takes all the testimony literally, one is to believe that no one who knew the details at hand ever thought of saying to Murphy, “Governor, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you need to know, One of your top people says she was raped by another one of your top people.”
Not doing that shows an incredible lack of common sense. If one defense is that his underlings wanted to protect the governor, the question is, protect him from what? It’s hardly his fault if a rape takes place on the campaign trail. But it is the governor’s ultimate responsibility if the alleged rapist not only gets a job, but doesn’t leave that job until the case makes the newspapers. Which is precisely why the governor should have been immediately told about Brennan’s allegation.
As the issue of “telling the governor” continued to swirl around the hearing room, Beckon was asked if he regretted not informing Murphy.
“Perhaps, it’s something I should have done,” he acknowledged.