Murphy Insists He Didn’t Know of Rape Accusation Against Staffer
A day after former Phil Murphy campaign volunteer Katie Brennan testified before a special legislative committee about her sexual assault and how she was ignored by high level Murphy administration officials when she told them about her attacker, Murphy said he felt sick over the incident and vowed to find out how her alleged assaulter was given a top job in the state Schools Development Authority.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Brennan told lawmakers she had been told Al Alvarez would be leaving his job as chief of staff of the SDA last June, but he was not fired and didn’t resign until early October, when the Wall Street Journal did a story about the April 2017 incident and her subsequent ordeal.
Alvarez was not charged with a crime because Hudson County prosecutors believed it would be her word against his.
In the era of #MeToo, Murphy is taking heat after Brennan criticized his administration for not listening to her story until forced to when she shared her accusation with the press. The reporting spurred the bipartisan inquiry in the Legislature. It's not clear if Murphy will testify.
Speaking at a Thursday afternoon news conference in Trenton, Murphy reiterated that he did not find out about Brennan’s allegations until Oct. 2. After he got details of her story, he ordered two separate investigations.
“The minute I understood what happened to her, on Oct. 2, my heart broke. I got sick to my stomach and I feel awful to this moment about it," he said.
When Murphy was asked whether he would agree to testify before the special legislative committee to answer questions about what he knew and how the situation had unfolded, the governor said he would not get into hypotheticals.
“We respect the process that the legislators have put in place. We have to call balls and strikes, and it must be solutions focused and not political. And as long as it is, count us in," he said.
Murphy also said “there’s some notion out there in some quarters that we’re not cooperating. That is completely 1,000 percent false.”
When asked about an email exchange he had with Brennan months earlier, when he told her “I’m on it” after Brennan had indicated to the governor that she needed to share information of a sensitive nature with him, Murphy said “if you hang around me [...] those are words I use in lots of different interactions.”
Murphy stressed it’s imperative to find out how Brennan’s alleged assaulter was given a top job in his administration and make changes to the system if necessary.
He said the big question remains “how did this happen, we have to figure out how this poor woman was driven to tell her story to a news organization, because nobody else would listen, we cannot tolerate that, we cannot see that movie again.”
Murphy indicated he assumes when top-level staffers found out about the Brennan situation, Alvarez was not asked to resign because “they were adhering to the obligations they felt they had, based on the rules that are written in government.
He was quick to add “even if that proves to be the case, it can’t be that this woman could have gone on this long, for these many months, and not had her story heard and believed. I question whether or not those obligations and the rules of the road and the policies in government are the right ones, and that’s why we’re reviewing them from top to bottom.”
The Special Legislative Committee will hold a follow-up hearing Dec. 18.