The Anatomy of a Cover-up? 

Only two people know for certain what happened after the April 2017 rally for Phil Murphy in Jersey City. 

Katie Brennan, then a volunteer for the Phil Murphy campaign, claims Albert J Alvarez, a high ranking official in the campaign, drove her to her apartment, asked to come up to use the toilet, and then sexually assaulted her. 

Alvarez, who at the time served as the director for Latino outreach for the campaign (a key position for getting out the Latino vote) has vehemently denied Brennan’s claims. 

In later testimony before the Legislative Select Oversight Committee, Alvarez said the embraces exchanged that night were consensual and that when Brennan told him to stop, he did. 

Only a handful of knew what transpired afterwards, the Jersey City police, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Sex Crimes Unit, and a close friend, Justin Braz, who would later become assistant to Gov. Murphy’s chief of staff, Peter Cammarano. 

Brennan, who later be named as chief of staff to the state’s Housing and Mortgage Finance Authority, told the Legislative Select Oversight Committee that her case was mishandled on every level of law enforcement, and blamed the Jersey City police for lack of sensitivity in dealing with rape allegations – accusations denied by local police and disputed by the state Attorney General’s office that reviewed potential conflicts of the Hudson County Prosecutor. 

Although the allegations apparently became widely known among Murphy insiders, most could not speak openly about it, bound by a confidentiality agreement they signed which restricted them from making public what they heard or saw during the campaign. 

One of the key people left out of the information loop, however, appears to have been Murphy himself, who at the time was locked in a primary battle for the Democratic nomination for governor, and later, faced a tough GOP candidate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in the general election. 

In fact, Murphy didn’t find out about the allegations until he received a phone call from the Wall Street Journal in October 2018 – ten months have been sworn in as governor – asking him for comment. 

Even Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez – appointed by Gov. Chris Christie – said she had no knowledge of the case, even though her staff investigated it for nearly nine months, and she was included on the email chain among those investigators. 

But once the allegations became public, Suarez recused herself because she knew both Brennan and Alvarez. The state Attorney General’s office later issued a statement clearing her of any conflicts. 

Ultimately, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office could not find enough evidence to prosecute Alvarez, a conclusion later supported by an independent investigation by the Middlesex Prosecutor’s Office at the request of the state Attorney General. 

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s findings, however, were released after Murphy was elected in November 2017, but prior to his taking office two months later. Just prior to these findings, Brennan told Braz that she expected Alverez to be charged. Braz told Cammarano, but Cammarano failed to tell then Governor-elect Murphy.  Perhaps this was to keep the allegations from tainting the newly elected progressive governor. 

Alvarez became a key member of the Murphy transition team, and later was named to a top post in the state’s School Development Authority.  Nobody took credit for this appointment, and denied Murphy had anything to do with it. 

Despite lack of charges against Alvarez, for some reason – perhaps to keep a lid on the potential scandal if it should become public – Cammarano asked Alvarez to resign his post twice over the next ten months – something Alverez eventually did, but only after being contacted by the Wall Street Journal in October 2018. 

After the decision by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office not to charge Alvarez, Brennan sought help from numerous powerful people in Trenton – which apparently included Murphy. 

Brennan said she contacted Murphy asking to talk to him about “a sensitive matter” but did not give details. Murphy apparently passed the email onto a staff member. 

Murphy’s staff – many of whom already knew about the allegations and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s decision – apparently kept Murphy isolated from the case. 

Frustrated with her inability to get anyone in Trenton to listen to her, Brennan took her case to media in October 2018. 

The case has since become a political circus and continues to dog the Murphy Administration two and half years after the incident. 

The case raises some serious questions about who knew what during the election process and whether or not top campaign officials deliberately suppressed Brennan’s allegations in order to keep it from becoming an issue during the campaign. 

More importantly, why didn’t anyone tell Murphy about it after he won his election and was sworn in as governor in early 2018? 

If no charges were filed, why did Cammarano ask Alvarez to resign – well before it became a public scandal? 

Brennan has filed several lawsuits, one that is asking the courts to invalidate the Murphy campaign’s non-disclosure agreements. This has the potential of providing her with a pool of witnesses who she apparently believes may help prove her case. 

Meanwhile, Alvarez is suing Brennan partly to get her to stop making what he considers false allegations. His suit also claims he was terminated from his state job because of the allegations and cannot get a new job. But his suit comes at a time when he failed to respond to Brennan’s lawsuit against him and he faced default. 

Adding another ring to what is already a three-ring circus, the Legislative Select Oversight Committee — stacked with anti-Murphy Democrats and opportunistic Republicans – held a series of hearings supposedly designed to get to the bottom of the situation. But the committee seemed more determined to find a way to hang the whole thing on Murphy than to find justice for the two people involved. 

Where this case goes from here is anybody’s guess. For some political opportunists, keeping the scandal alive into the 2021 election may be an advantage.  

 

 

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