Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign counsel Jonathan Berkon’s testimony before the Special Committee on oversight provided little new insight on why a campaign lawyer was the one to tell State Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan that the man she accused of sexual assault was leaving government service.
Berkon stuck to the line, previously offered by administration officials, that he was looped into the discussions Brennan’s allegations after she sent Murphy an email about a sensitive matter that took place during the campaign because of his role in the same.
Though, Berkon did say that the decision to have him call Brennan to inform her of former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez’s impending departure was jointly made with Murphy Chief Counsel Matt Platkin, who Berkon said told him the details of her allegations against Alvarez.
That decision, Berkon said, was made because Brennan’s email mentioned the campaign.
In her early-December testimony, Brennan told the Special Committee that Berkon informed her Alvarez was departing from government service but said he could not provide more detail because it was a personnel issue.
“I could go as far as making a factual representation about the fact that Mr. Alvarez was leaving,” Berkon told the Special Committee Tuesday. “But going beyond and characterizing why he was leaving was in some sense making a legal representation. That kind of process was something we weren’t comfortable doing.”
The two attorneys decided Alvarez would have to be let go because of the nature and severity of the allegation against him, Berkon said.
Brennan has accused Alvarez of sexually assaulting her on April 9, 2017, when they were bothpart of Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign.
Platkin and Berkon spoke shortly after the latter’s call with Brennan, but Berkon said they did not have further conversations on the matter until A Wall Street Journal reached out for comment on the matter in early October, months after Alvarez was instructed to separate himself from government service in June.
Berkon said he and Platkin did not discuss a strategy or timeline for Alvarez’s departure, and Berkon said he did not follow up to make sure Alvarez had left his state job, in part because he felt Alvarez’s departure was imminent and in part because he deemed it an administration matter because, at that time, neither Brennan nor Alvarez were part of the Murphy campaign.
Berkon said he did not recall having conversations with Platkin about telling Murphy of Brennan’s allegations. Murphy has maintained he first learned of Brennan’s allegations when a Wall Street Journal reporter reached out seeking comment about the allegations in early October.
He later said there had not been a phone call between the three regarding Brennan’s allegations.
A number of committee members pressed Berkon on why he did not tell Murphy of the allegations using the state’s rules of professional conduct, which require the client be kept reasonably informed.
Berkon’s responded by again saying that he eventually determined Brennan’s allegations were not under the purview of the campaign.
Complicating things is the fact that, according to numerous sources, including from those under oath, Platkin had recused himself from the matter in March.
Berkon said he did not recall Platkin informing him of his recusal and said he was unsure of when exactly he learned of the same.
He said he was unsure who in Murphy’s administration he would have interacted with in Platkin’s stead had he been aware of the recusal.