Lawmakers Wonder: Cover-up or Incompetence in Murphy Administration?
TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy continues to maintain he did not know about sexual assault allegations made against Al Alvarez when Alvarez was working in a senior role for Murphy's campaign.
Members of the Democrat-led committee openly question the truth of the governor's assertion, and have become increasingly frustrated by a lack of answers and accountability for how the situation was handled.
They can't even get a straight answer about the most basic question: Who hired Alvarez?
During another day of hearings on Tuesday, lawmakers were left with essentially two answers to that vexing question: 1) Alvarez hired himself; or 2) Murphy hired him. Here is what we know about both scenarios.
Did Alvarez hire himself?
Lynn Haynes was the director of personnel for the transition. It is her signature on Alvarez's offer letter. She testified that signature was affixed electronically, and she didn't hire him. When asked who did, she said she assumed it was one of three people authorized to make those decisions: Pete Cammarano, the then-incoming chief of staff; Matt Platkin, the then-incoming chief counsel, or Jose Lozano, who was director of the transition office. All three have testified they didn't hire Alvarez. So who told Haynes Alvarez had a $140,000 job as chief of staff for the Schools Development Authority? Haynes testified that Alvarez did, saying "he said 'they’re sending me over to SDA,'" but Haynes could not say who "they" were.
Did Murphy hire Alvarez?
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, certainly thinks it was Murphy who signed off on Alvarez. During Tuesday's hearing, she asked Haynes directly. Haynes uncomfortably sat silent for 18 seconds, then didn't deny it was possible. She took a deep breath before answering, "That wasn't part of the process, having the governor involved, and so I don't know. I would just be speculating."
Cunningham believes that’s the most logical answer.
"(Murphy) obviously knew all the players ... It seems to me that it's very simple for the governor to say, 'Hey, take care of Al,'" she said.
Murphy has denied hiring Alvarez, even though the legislative oversight committee has a letter showing Murphy did hire him as deputy director of personnel for his transition office. Murphy and Alvarez knew each other well. Wouldn't it be logical Murphy did the same for the SDA position? No one will say.
After Tuesday's hearing wrapped up, committee members could not contain both their frustration and the feeling that people are just not telling the truth.
"Each time someone comes up, the inconsistencies — and at the end of the day, all that we're asking for is someone just give us an answer. It's not that big of a deal. But the more you don't give us an answer, the bigger of a deal it becomes because it just looks unprofessional," Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, who co-chairs the committee, said.
Committee lawyer Michael Critchley can’t shake the feeling multiple people are not telling the truth, and invoked "Alice in Wonderland" imagery.
"Every time we ask a question, it gets more curiouser and curiouser. And I just don't know why that's the case," Critchley said.