Observers are questioning the value of Peter Verniero’s investigation after long-awaited the former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice’s report revealed little that was not already known about the hiring of former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez.
“I think the report is the report, and I think that the report is a report that was sponsored by the administration. I guess I am not surprised that it does not have any real revelatory value,” Montclair University political science professor Brigid Harrison said. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a sham, but the reality is that it has no power to elucidate what actually happened.”
The report’s revelations were few and largely restated conclusions already drawn by the Select Committee’s investigation into Alvarez’s hiring.
Verniero’s investigation did not find the one responsible for hiring Alvarez and did not find any evidence that Gov. Phil Murphy knew about the assault allegations against him before press inquiries last October.
State Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan has accused Alvarez of sexually assaulting her in April 2017, when Alvarez was in charge of Muslim and Latino outreach for Murphy’s campaign, for which Brennan would later volunteer.
Some of that responsibility may lay with the powers Verniero’s investigation was granted rather than with the man himself, Seton Hall political science professor Matt Hale said.
“They’re an outside entity. People are reluctant to talk to them for fear of retaliation, for fear of their job or something like that,” Hale said. “They have a limited amount of time. They don’t have specific subpoena or investigatory powers, and as a result, they can report and they can make recommendations of things that are probably already low-hanging fruit.”
Like the Select Committee, which has been reluctant to use its subpoena power, Verniero did not interview Alvarez.
Of further concern for some is that Verniero’s investigation lacked any revelations despite taking a month longer to complete than initially anticipated.
When he announced the investigation last October, Murphy said he expected it to be complete by the end of 2018.
But, Verniero’s investigation was released Wednesday morning, a little more than a month into the new year.
“Peter Verniero has a solid reputation,” Harrison said. Given the fact that the investigation went longer than initially anticipated, given the threads that had started to be pulled during the legislative testimony, I thought that there was a possibility that perhaps there would be something revealed that we didn’t already know.”