POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Murphy’s top lawyer testifies he didn’t tell governor about alleged sexual assault

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

“I certainly understand why the committee or anyone else would come to the conclusion that I should have told the governor. I was exercising my best judgment under the policy as I understood it at the time,” the governor’s chief counsel, Matt Platkin, testified.

Platkin said he felt so concerned about state Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confidentiality rules that he avoided telling his boss that administration employee Katie Brennan had accused another Murphy administration staffer, Al Alvarez, of raping her when Murphy was campaigning for governor in April 2017.

“If you could do it again, would you tell the governor?” asked Joe Hayden, co-counsel of the committee.

“I think given the facts we know now, I would inform the governor,” Platkin said.

“And if you could do it again, would you fire Mr. Alvarez more promptly?” asked Hayden.

“I still don’t know the answer to that legally,” Platkin said.

That elicited an incredulous response from several members of the bipartisan Select Oversight Committee, which was charged with investigating the Brennan case and the Murphy administration’s hiring practices. Lawmakers wanted to know if there was a cover-up to protect the governor from bad press.

“Did you feel that you were participating in a cover-up?” asked Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz.

“Absolutely not,” Platkin said. “There’s always a concern about press, but my first and foremost concern was that we wanted Mr. Alvarez to leave state government.”

Sen. Kristin Corrado asked, “Who do you hold accountable for us getting here, today?”

“I don’t believe that’s my decision or judgment to make,” Platkin replied.

“So you don’t hold yourself accountable for being here today, for the governor not knowing from December to October when everyone else has testified it was your decision,” Corrado said.

“Senator, I have a challenging job. I make a thousand decisions a day. I get a lot wrong. I always hold myself accountable when we do make mistakes,” Platkin said.

Co-chair of the committee, Sen. Loretta Weinberg said, “Everybody seemed to find a way not to investigate, rather than to find some avenues where it could have been investigated, and then we wouldn’t have been sitting here today.”

Platkin’s the latest in a series of staffers to testify. Not one witness, including Platkin, could say who actually hired Alvarez — to the exasperation of the committee’s counsel.

“It’s no secret that the administration knows right now, because they’re following these hearings. All we want to know is who hired Al Alvarez,” said committee co-counsel Michael Critchley.

Platkin testified that Brennan is his friend. After she told Platkin about the alleged rape last March, he decided Alvarez had to leave his $140,000 a year job at the Schools Development Authority and enlisted Murphy’s former Chief of Staff, Pete Cammarano, to push Alvarez out. But nobody told that to Brennan.

“She made the complaint, and then nobody informs her that there’s nothing that’s going to be done about it?” asked Munoz.

“I agree that I was surprised she had not been contacted sooner,” Platkin said.

“It seems like a lot of people have failed in this situation,” Munoz said.

Platkin testified he was surprised to discover three months later that Alvarez still worked for the state, and he again ordered another staffer to ask Alvarez to leave. Platkin told the committee he never offered to help find Alvarez another job, but also never gave him a hard leave-by date. He recounted a June phone call from a “sobbing” Alvarez, who promised to go.

“He informed me in clear terms that he would do so, but since he was the caretaker for two minor children, he needed some more time to find other employment so he could continue to support his family,” Platkin said.

Platkin said he expected Alvarez would leave and admitted senior staff expressed concerns about the press getting hold of the story. Brennan finally did tell The Wall Street Journal, prompting Alvarez to resign in October when Murphy ultimately learned the details, Platkin testified. The entire narrative has exposed an administration hiring process riddled with holes and lacking follow through with both the accused or the accuser.

The Select Oversight Committee is still trying to determine the facts surrounding the case. The next hearing is scheduled for Friday.