A top political advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy’s alleged that the future governor was informed of allegations of “rank misogyny” and retaliation in a bombshell Star-Ledger story during the 2017 gubernatorial campaign.
An e-mail between Murphy and longtime Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky appears to contradict previous statements by Murphy that he was unaware of accusations of a toxic workplace environment during his campaign for governor.
Roginsky says that Murphy’s campaign manager, Brendan Gill, used the C-word during an argument with her. She says she informed Murphy and that she was ultimately fired from the campaign.
Gill vehemently denies the use of the C-word.
The issue of how women were treated on the campaign pushes Murphy further against the #MeToo movement and threatens to undermine his credibility as a national progressive leader.
Murphy’s handling of complaints by women on his campaign became an issue in 2018 when one of his volunteers, Katie Brennan, alleged that she was raped by a senior campaign official, Al Alvarez. Brennan told top Murphy advisors, but Alvarez was still hired for a top administration post and remained on the job until a Wall Street Journal story was about to break.
Roginsky has founded a national advocacy group, Lift Our Voices, to force politicians and corporations to release women from non-disclosure agreements that would prevent them from speaking out publicly about incidents of sexual assault and toxic workplace environments.
She won that battle with Murphy. Just a few days ago, Murphy agreed to release campaign workers, consultants and volunteers from their NDAs after Roginsky said she was unable to discuss the toxic environment of the gubernatorial campaign because she was subject to the agreement.
“This laughable attempt to gaslight the public is exactly why women in politics are afraid to report incidents of misogyny or harassment,” Roginsky said. “(It’s) why my termination had such a chilling effect on others who wanted or still want to come forward.”
Paul Josephson, the Murphy campaign counsel, told Roginsky’s attorney last summer that the campaign was enforcing the NDA, contradicting the governor’s public statements.
Unlike the Brennan issue, where there was an allegation of rape, Roginsky’s story centers around a male-dominated campaign culture.
Roginsky also claimed that Gill retaliated against her because she reported attempts to monetize his relationship with Murphy, whose campaign to replace embattled Republican Chris Christie was considered a near sure-thing.
She said she confronted Gill, an Essex County freeholder who is up for re-election this year, about rumors she heard about soliciting clients based on presumed access to the next governor of New Jersey.
“After that conversation, my relationship with Brendan was never the same, although it was not clear to me at the time that that was the case,” she said. “It culminated in a disagreement we had about a relatively minor campaign issue on June 23, 2017. Brendan shouted at me, berated me, told me that he was the boss of the campaign and I wasn’t and culminated in him calling me, yes, ‘the C word.’ I told several people about that conversation, including the governor, and how offended I was by Brendan’s use of that term to describe me.”
Roginsky said she reported her conversation to Jonathan Berkon, an attorney representing the campaign.
“I had understood that my conversations with Berkon were confidential, but it soon became apparent that my complaints were shared in detail with Gill,” said Roginsky. “Within days, Brendan began to retaliate against me for blowing the whistle on him by falsely accusing me of disloyalty to the campaign, refusing to communicate with me about important campaign issues and intentionally freezing me out of campaign strategy. He started to turn other members of the campaign against me.
Gill pushed back on Roginsky’s charges.
“It is sad that Ms. Roginsky is in denial of her harmful behavior during the campaign,” Gill told the Star-Ledger.
Gill and Roginsky were friends for years and had worked on several campaigns together. He acknowledged that Roginsky was responsible for his coming aboard the Murphy campaign.
“At some point she lost her way and now is resorting to name calling, finger pointing and attempting to mislead the public and doing the bidding of her other clients,” he said.
Roginsky responded by saying that “Gill and his frat house buddies … are desperately attempting to deflect attention from the fact that Gill ran a misogynistic campaign.”
“This is what toxic men do. Rather than apologize and reform, they try to discredit and send a message to others to keep their mouths shut,” Roginsky tweeted. “I’ve seen this playbook before with (former Fox News CEO) Ailes. Here’s some news: we won’t be silent. Other women will speak up. Get ready.”
She was the only woman on a series of e-mails that circulated through senior levels of the campaign.
The Murphy campaign said their lawyers had conducted an internal investigation into Roginsky’s complains.
The Star-Ledger reported that Roginsky wrote a “Hail Mary Pass” email to Murphy saying she would “bury the hatchet” with Gill.
“I have known Gill for two decades and we have been very close friends for all but three weeks of that time,” Roginsky said.
On Twitter, Roginsky questioned how seriously an internal investigation conducted by the Murphy campaign ought to be taken.
“I was promised that Murphy attorneys would contact me ‘soon’ to discuss allegations about the general toxic nature of the MFG campaign and into allegations of potential self-dealing by campaign attorneys on 7/13/17. Still waiting for that call more than two years later,” Roginsky said. “Clearly, the fix was in. No one was interested in really investigating anything. Campaign lawyers, one of whom represents Gill in a personal capacity, shut it all down and got rid of the complainant (me). Straight up whistleblower retaliation.”
According to Roginsky, the emails produced by the Murphy campaign “were cherry-picked, heavily redacted and designed to tell an incomplete and misleading narrative.”
“Even so, they reveal some clues about the real reasons that I was ultimately fired by Phil Murphy,” she said.
Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for the Democratic State Committee denied that the e-mails were redacted beyond the removal of personal e-mail addresses and an unrelated exchange on scheduling.
Former Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson, who is leading Lift our Voices with Roginsky, slammed the Murphy team for trashing Roginsky.
“Amazing this elected official and team still think trashing her, while saying they are for women, still works in 2020,” Carlson said. “Please stop and get with the times. We ain’t going away.”
On Kavanaugh nomination, Murphy said women should be believed
Murphy went in a different direction in 2018 after Christine Blasey Ford alleged that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her.
“The presumption that she is not telling the truth is unacceptable, and it should deeply anger us all,” Murphy said on Twitter.
That appeared to amaze Roginsky, considering the attacks on her by the governor’s spokespersons.
“But women who worked for him should automatically be disbelieved when they call out his frat boy crew,” she said. “Do you believe all women or just the ones who accuse Republicans?
When Roginsky filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News and Ailes in April 2017, Murphy issued a statement backing her up.
“I have known and worked with Julie for a number of years. She is smart, hard-working and fiercely loyal. She is the consummate professional, but more importantly she is a wonderful mother who always puts family first. I fully support Julie,” Murphy said in a statement.
In his State of the State address two weeks ago, Murphy addressed the need to way women are treated in New Jersey government and politics.
“Nothing – I repeat, nothing – more exemplifies that need to change the longstanding culture than the pernicious sexism and abuse that still creeps across these hallways, at conferences, and in meeting rooms,” Murphy said. “We all must be disgusted by the stories which women – across the entire spectrum of race, age, and experience – tell of their mistreatment by men who felt empowered, if not protected, by Trenton’s culture.
“For too many years, too many people in power have turned their eyes away from behavior they knew was not only happening, but was pervasive in Trenton,” the governor stated. “I am calling on those who have stood idly by and allowed this behavior to flourish to start speaking up and speaking out whenever they witness injustice.”
Disclosure: Julie Roginsky has been a close friend for more than fifteen years. Along with Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran, I was one of the individuals she told in 2017 about Gill using the c-word to her. Like many journalists, I have developed personal friendships with those I cover. This includes friends and rivals of the governor.