The Select Oversight Committee spent a deeply frustrating day still unable to pin down the answer to who on Gov. Phil Murphy’s transition team hired the man Katie Brennan has accused of sexually assaulting her after a campaign party in 2017. Every single witness — including Murphy’s former Chief of Staff Pete Cammarano, on his third appearance in front of the committee — has so far given the same reply that they don’t know.
“The only link that’s missing is, who hired him? Do you understand our dilemma,” committee co-counsel Michael Critchley asked Cammarano. “Can you help us solving our dilemma?”
“I think I have been very clear, probably 200 times, that I can’t,” replied Cammarano.
The Murphy administration had known about accusations against Alvarez since Dec. 2017. At that point, he worked during the transition with Lynn Haynes, helping sort through job applications for the new administration. Haynes on Tuesday told the committee she actually signed the letter onboarding Alvarez for his job at the Schools Development Authority, but even she did not know who made the formal hire.
“We don’t know who hired him. We know that your signature is on there, but you’re saying that you didn’t actually approve the hiring, is that correct,” asked Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz.
“I did not approve it. I did not have authority to approve any hires,” Haynes replied.
Haynes said she believed three people — transition chief Jose Lozano, chief counsel Matt Platkin and Cammarano — had the authority to hire Alvarez, but all three have denied knowledge of who actually did it.
“Is there any other way that he could’ve been hired without their approval,” asked Munoz.
“I don’t see another way,” Haynes responded.
“There’s only three people that could make that decision, and I just don’t know why we’ve spent so much time finding out nothing,” said Critchley.
Last week, the committee sent a letter to Murphy’s attorney flat-out asking who hired Alvarez.
“All that we’re asking for is just, someone just give us an answer,” said committee co-chair Eliana Pintor Marin. “It’s not that big of a deal. But the more you don’t give us an answer, the bigger of a deal it becomes because it just looks unprofessional.”
“Is it possible the governor-elect hired Al Alvarez?” asked Sen. Sandra Cunningham.
“That wasn’t a part of the process, having the governor involved, so I don’t know. I would just be speculating,” replied Haynes.
“Did the governor have an approved list that anybody was aware of, of people who should be hired in his administration,” asked co-chair Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
“I don’t have knowledge of any such list,” Haynes said.
The story’s still not straight on Alvarez’s departure either. Cammarano testified he asked Alvarez to leave his $140,000 a year state job last March but never sent Alvarez an email or bothered to follow up.
“Did it occur to you that it might have been helpful to have written a follow-up letter or email to Mr. Alvarez saying in effect, this is to confirm our meeting on the 26th that you will separate yourself from state government and do it promptly,'” asked committee co-counsel Joe Hayden.
“It’s the first time it’s been suggested to me that it could’ve been done, and it’s a good suggestion,” responded Pete Camarano.
For the record, Alvarez hasn’t been charged and has denied the allegations. Contradicting Cammarano’s testimony, Alvarez claims he wasn’t asked to leave until last June after Brennan sent the governor a desperate email asking to meet on a sensitive matter.
Attorneys read part of Alvarez’s unemployment application into the record.
“The Governor’s Office felt if the accuser went public with the allegations, it would reflect poorly on the administration,” Critchley said.
Witnesses testified Alvarez couldn’t have hired himself. The committee says that information is crucial to issuing a report on how to improve the administration’s hiring policies.