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NJ trade mission still a go as Murphy orders sexual assault probe of former campaign staffer

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Gov. Phil Murphy holds a press conference on the state budget on June 25th.
Gov. Phil Murphy holds a press conference on the state budget on June 25th. - ()

Gov. Phil Murphy plans to go ahead with a nine-day trade mission to Germany and Israel against the backdrop of an investigation he launched today into why his administration hired someone who had been accused of sexually assaulting a campaign volunteer.

At a press event Monday in Newark, Murphy said he was “sick to my stomach” when he read published reports about the allegations, but pledged to follow through with plans to go on the trip that departs for Germany tonight.

The trip will take the Murphy and administration members across Germany and Israel as he sets out to expand what he said is a $9 billion trade relationship between the two countries.

Katie Brennan, chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, came forward in a Wall Street Journal piece published Sunday to graphically detail an incident in which she alleges she was allegedly sexually assaulted by Murphy campaign staffer Albert Alvarez, who was later hired by the administration as chief of staff at the New Jersey Schools Development Authority.

Brennan, in the article, said she reported the incident in April 2017, before Alvarez was hired for the schools post. He remained in the job until he resigned last week.

"I wish we hadn't made the hire in transition, period. I'm sick to my stomach once I heard what happened," Murphy said Monday.

One investigation is being conducted by Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, after it was referred by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

Another is being led by former attorney general Peter Verniero, who will review why Alvarez was hired despite the allegations and criminal investigation, and what policies can be changed around sexual assault allegations against administration staff.

"We will not follow the lead of Washington," Murphy said. "This will be a real investigation.”

Verniero issued his own statement Monday afternoon:

"Today my firm, Sills Cummis & Gross P.C., and I were asked by the Murphy Administration to undertake a systemic review of the hiring and vetting practices of the Gov.-elect’s transition office, including the hiring and vetting of Mr. Albert J. Alvarez, regarding his position in the transition office and his eventual position at the New Jersey Schools Development Authority.

"Within that mandate, I have been assured that I will have complete independence to request interviews with whomever I deem appropriate as fact witnesses as well as access to relevant documents."

Verniero said he expects to complete his review by the end of the year.

Murphy said he and his wife Tammy reached out to Brennan earlier in the day and planned to get in touch with her via phone.

The governor added he will monitor the investigation while he is abroad.

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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