Persichilli and Murphy Try to Tamp Down Drama Around Recordings

Persichilli

Bad blood between the front office and the Department of Health spilled into today’s question and answer session at Governor Phil Murphy’s COVID-19 briefing.

“I’ve got nothing to add on who’s working and not working other than I don’t know where we’d be without Judy, the best health commissioner in the country,” said a no-drama committed Murphy.

“Nothing to add,”  a similarly soap opera-averse Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli added.

They were referring to reporters’ questions connected to the intrigue around the aftermath of the evaporation out of the administration of Deputy Health Commissioner Christopher Neuwirth, according to NJ.com:

In two recordings made without her knowledge — one from late May and another less than two weeks ago — Persichilli talked with Department of Health officials, recounting conversations that she had with some of Gov. Phil Murphy’s advisers. They urged her to fire the people in her “inner circle” because they believe these officials are most likely sharing information and recordings with the media, Persichilli said on the recording.

Persichilli then said she refused to fire anyone and offered her resignation instead.

“‘Well, we think it’s in your inner circle.’ Matt (Platkin, the governor’s chief counsel) said get rid of everybody,’ ” Persichilli says on the recording from late May. “So I waited, paused and I went, ‘No, I am not going to do that. This is all targeted to me. So you will have my resignation in the morning. I’m the one that should leave first.’”

Also from Sue Livio’s NJ.com story:

Murphy’s administration asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate the source of the leaks, and more than two dozen people now have been questioned, according to the health department sources. Assistant Commissioner Christopher Neuwirth was fired amid reports that he allegedly failed to disclose a side job, but that action predated the ethics commission’s investigation.

Neuwirth denied he shared confidential information and filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the state. He claimed he was ordered in late April to provide test kits to family members of George Helmy, the governor’s chief of staff, for COVID-19. Neuwirth, concerned the request was unethical at a time of a testing shortage, said Persichilli advised him not to do it, something the commissioner was also heard saying in another secret recording.

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