Murphy chief counsel says he followed rules in keeping rape allegation from governor

Jan 22, 2019

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s chief counsel Friday defended his decision not to tell Murphy about a rape allegation by a former campaign worker for months.

It wasn’t until a reporter made inquiries about the rape allegation that the governor was finally told about it.

Matt Platkin testified before a state legislative committee that he did not tell Murphy about the sexual assault claim because he believed the state’s Equal Employment Opportunity rules required he keep it confidential.

Under questioning from legislators, Platkin acknowledged he could have told Murphy sooner.

“With hindsight, obviously, a different conclusion as to who should have been informed or who should not have been informed, I think, is fair,” he said. “But at the time I was exercising my judgment based on my understanding of the policy.”

Lawmakers on the joint legislative committee are investigating why accused assailant Al Alvarez kept his job in the administration for months while top officials who knew about the accusation kept Murphy in the dark until the accusation was about to become public in a Wall Street Journal story.

Katie Brennan, a Murphy campaign volunteer and now the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, said Alvarez raped her after a gathering of Murphy campaign officials in the spring of 2017.

Brennan tried to warn top officials in Murphy’s transition and administration about the rape, but she said they all ignored her pleas for help. Alvarez denies the claim and was never charged by police.

Platkin’s testimony came on the fifth day of questioning before the committee and after several other transition and administration officials who also knew of Brennan’s claim testified that Platkin told them to keep it secret, too.

Yet Platkin told the committee that he relayed the claim to some fellow officials, such as Murphy’s chief of staff Pete Cammarano and Murphy’s campaign counsel Jonathan Berkon.

He also said he believed the EEO confidentiality rules remained in effect even after the state attorney general’s office informed the governor’s office that it could not investigate the EEO claim because neither Brennan nor Alvarez were state employees at the time of the alleged rape and because it was said to occur off state property.

“This was an unusual case where the policy did not allow an investigation, however, the nature of a complaint which was raised by a state employee is still protected under the policy,” Platkin said.

Still, lawmakers expressed dismay at Platkin and other officials who said they counted Brennan as a friend and knew of her rape claim yet did little to ensure that Alvarez was removed from his position.

“Everybody keeps saying that they’re a friend of Ms. Brennan, that their heart was broken. Everybody was so distraught,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, “yet there seems to be no follow-up here.”

Platkin was also the latest Murphy official to testify that he did not know who hired Alvarez as chief of staff at the Schools Development Authority.

Michael Critchley, an attorney for the committee, called the confusion over who picked Alvarez for a job in state government – even after several officials knew of the sexual assault claim against him – “an embarrassment.”