The Legislature gave the green light for the special committee Monday and granted subpoena power for the investigation, passing resolutions in both chambers. But it didn’t happen without creating a few waves first.
A letter signed by 60 female supporters of the governor was sent to the Legislature prior to Monday’s vote. It states full support for Katie Brennan, the woman who accused Albert J. Alvarez, a former senior staffer for Murphy, of rape after a campaign gathering in 2017.
But it raises concern about using subpoena power to “politicize the process.”
“We believe that an independent investigation and review are meaningful first steps. These should be focused on supporting survivors and not made spectacles for public consumption,” the letter said.
“I have not seen the letter,” Majority Leader Sen. Loretta Weinberg said. “The letter was released to the press. I find it kind of funny that it never made it to my desk. The only thing I know about the letter is what I read in the press. There is no overreaching. We are very, very clear. I’ve said it from the very beginning when I made a statement even before the Senate president and speaker convened a special committee. We have work to do — policies and procedures that cover all of New Jersey government.”
Weinberg will chair the 15-member panel investigating hiring practices and the way in which Murphy’s administration handled the sexual assault allegations.
“I would like this committee to come out with anti-harassment policies and procedures that cover all of state government,” Weinberg said.
Co-signers on the letter say the concern stems from friction within the Democratic Party, most notably between Senate President Steve Sweeney and Murphy. But others said the investigation and powers within are an example of checks and balances on the executive branch.
“You elected a governor with no experience. He was an ambassador to Germany, nice man, but this is a very serious business, and it’s a new business for him. I think they made a lot of mistakes in their hiring practices and they should just come out and say, ‘Look, we’re new at this, we made some mistakes and we’re sorry,'” Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said.
“There should be no concern about a fishing expedition if there isn’t anything improper that’s taken place,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said.
Schepisi sat on the last Special Oversight Committee convened because of the George Washington Bridge lane scandal under Gov. Chris Christie’s watch.
“There were people who had previously said we will come in and we will provide honest, open testimony and they were subpoenaed nonetheless. I think that if you’re going to be consistent, we should keep the same process and procedure in place for each of our committees,” she said.
Murphy launched his own investigation separate to the Legislature’s. Those who’ve worked within this space are welcoming all of the chances for reform.
“This is bigger than one experience between one particular volunteer on a campaign and a staffer who then eventually became employed from the administration. What Katie experienced, both by neglectful responses from the administration as well as the systems, highlight what we’ve been saying for years. There are so many opportunities for growth,” said New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Patricia Teffenhart.
No hearings have been scheduled yet, but at least one member of the special committee said Monday’s vote means you should expect to see them begin in the very near future.