Select committee investigating alleged sexual assault holds first meeting

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

The bipartisan joint Select Oversight Committee held its organizational meeting in Trenton Thursday and announced its first witness will be alleged sexual assault survivor Katie Brennan.

Lawmakers want to know why Brennan’s alleged attacker, Al Alvarez, was hired for a top job by Gov. Murphy’s administration, even after Brennan reportedly told officials in the Murphy transition and cabinet about the alleged attack.

“She’s the one that’s really gonna tell us the story and give us the timeline, and who she spoke to after the event. So it really comes down to her testimony being critical and important,” said Co-Chair Eliana Pintor Marin.

“What we want to come out of this is policies and procedures that are clear and appropriate, so that people who might find themselves in the position that Katie Brennan felt she was in, have a clear path to what they should be doing,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.

“In this specific case, we failed a survivor, at least from what I saw in reading all the media outlets. We can’t allow that to happen again. If someone comes forward, we have to be sure that we’re there to protect them,” said State Senator Teresa Ruiz, a member of the select oversight committee.

The select committee co-chairs said they also invited Alvarez to testify. Through his lawyer, he’s emphatically denied the alleged attack occurred, as Brennan claims, after a Murphy campaign party in April 2017. Alvarez resigned shortly before the Wall Street Journal broke the story in early October — which is when, Gov. Murphy claims, he first heard the allegation’s shocking details. Murphy hired former Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero to conduct a separate investigation, aided by former Christie administration Attorney General Chris Porrino. He asked his own staff and Attorney General to review the hiring process.

“I respect those processes, I have no reason not to respect the legislative process. I think the guidelines, the benchmarks to keep in mind, is, one, we stand with survivors, two, we can’t let politics get into this at all,” said Murphy. “We’re looking in the mirror, and at times that can be very uncomfortable.”

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office reportedly dismissed Brennan’s accusations for insufficient evidence, but the Middlesex County Prosecutor is re-examining her case. The select committee will not explore that angle of the investigation. Its outside counsel — Michael Critchley and Joe Hayden — have already asked Murphy staffers to preserve evidence.

“They will now request documents. This is what this meeting was important — to start off a little earlier, just because we wanted to make sure we had all the rules adopted and everything according to procedure, so the attorneys can work on collecting the information they need,” Marin said.

“The Attorney General and the prosecutors’ offices will be looking at it from a legal standpoint, but we’re gonna be looking at it from a procedural standpoint — how we can prevent this from happening again, how we can put policies and procedures in place,” said Republican Assemblywoman and committee member Nancy Munoz.

The Committee expects to call its first witness, Katie Brennan, on Dec. 4, and hopes to wrap up the investigation before the state budget process begins.