Oversight Committee hears testimony from Murphy staffers on rape allegation

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Gov. Phil Murphy’s chief of staff Pete Cammarano gave the Select Committee his timeline for how the Murphy administration handled allegations by staffer Katie Brennan that she’d been raped by Al Alvarez when they both worked on the governor’s campaign.

The first red flag went up in December 2017 when Brennan’s friend, Justin Braz, testified she asked him to warn the governor’s transition team, without using her name, that Alvarez had assaulted her and was about to be charged by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office. Braz said he informed the transition’s outside counsel and Cammarano.

“At that time, we did not know who the victim was, and it was our understanding that the victim did not want us to know about her allegations,” Braz said.

Cammarano said after the prosecutor’s office declined to press charges, the Murphy administration hired Alvarez anyway despite the allegations against him. Brennan also got a job in state government and felt deep discomfort about Alvarez’s presence there. On March 22, Brennan says she met with Murphy’s Chief Counsel Matt Platkin and revealed she was the rape victim and pushed for Alvarez’s removal. Cammarano testified that he and Platkin then decided that Alvarez had to leave state government. Cammarano called Alvarez to his office on March 26.

“I told him he had been accused of sexual assault and that he should make arrangements to leave his state employment at the Schools Development Authority, where he was working as chief of staff. Mr. Alvarez adamantly denied the allegations, became teary-eyed and emotional, but I believe he fully understood my instructions that he should leave state service,” Cammarano said.

Cammarano insisted that he was advised not to report the rape allegations to anyone else, including the governor, due to confidentiality requirements. Meanwhile, Alvarez still didn’t leave. A desperate Brennan emailed the governor on June 1 about what she obliquely called a sensitive matter. He replied, “We know you well … Hang in. We are on it.” Days later, Alvarez’s boss, Charles McKenna, was told by Platkin to advise Alvarez to find another job.

“I had to go back and tell Mr. Alvarez that he should step back from government. That if whatever it was came to the floor, that it would not be a good situation and it could embarrass the governor. And therefore, that if he looked for another job, this problem wouldn’t hit the floor and everything would be fine,” McKenna said.

McKenna emphasized that Platkin never told him why Alvarez was being urged to leave. He was perhaps curious, but as a holdover from the Christie administration, he didn’t really expect to be in the loop, politically.

“If you boss is telling you they don’t want to know — you’re in a little bit of a spot,” McKenna said.

“That would raise a red flag and I would be absolutely concerned that they’re telling me, ‘Don’t let them know who I am, I can’t tell you what’s going on, but there’s a problem,'” said Sen. Kristin Corrado.

Cammarano indicated that despite the email, and despite Alvarez’s twice having been asked to leave state government, the Murphys still didn’t know what was going on until an inquiry from The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 2. Did he regret not telling the governor earlier?

“I have to follow the advice that I get from my legal counsel. I’m not an attorney,” Cammarano said. “There are times where I wish I had told the governor.”

The committee has asked Platkin and others to testify. The Select Committee’s next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 8.