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You are here: Home News "Beyond Bergen" - News From Across New Jersey Hudson prosecutor, on hot seat, stiff arms Legislature. | Moran

News From "Beyond Bergen"

Hudson prosecutor, on hot seat, stiff arms Legislature. | Moran

The investigative committee suspects she's lying when she says she knew nothing about the Katie Brennan rape case. It wants key emails. She is refusing.

What is Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez hiding? Why is she fighting the Legislature's request for documents related to the explosive rape allegations from Katie Brennan -- documents that could shed light on Suarez's own truthfulness in the case?

Welcome to the next phase of the Brennan rape scandal. Until now, the focus has been on the Murphy administration's frat-boy behavior -- the failure to take Brennan's rape charge seriously, the decision to hire the man she accused, Al Alvarez, and to give him a fat raise, despite promising Brennan that they'd get rid of him.

But the role of Suarez is coming next. She claims that she knew nothing about the case while her team worked on it for eight months in 2017, a claim that is now under scrutiny by the legislative committee.

It's important because if Suarez was involved, it would amount to a gargantuan conflict of interest that would throw the legitimacy of the rape investigation into doubt.

Suarez has acknowledged that she knew Alvarez personally. And she was on Phil Murphy's short list to be named the next attorney general during this same period, several sources say, presenting an even sharper conflict. Prosecuting one of Murphy's senior campaign aides during the campaign is not the sort of thing that ingratiates a job applicant.

So far, there is no evidence that Suarez meddled in the case. The head of the unit that handles rape cases, John Mulkeen, said on Saturday that he made the decision not file criminal charges against Alvarez, and that neither Suarez nor Murphy's team played any role.

"I did not speak to her (Suarez) about the decision," Mulkeen said. "All the conspiracy theories that say the governor's office interfered are nonsense. That's a complete work of fiction."

Brennan's lawyer in the criminal case, Alan Zegas, doesn't buy it for a minute: "The decision not to prosecute was political," he said. "Katie Brennan told a completely believable story. She had a right to have a grand jury make a determination and was denied that opportunity."

Suppose, for a moment, that Suarez didn't interfere, but that she knew her crew was investigating the case.

Even that would be ample grounds to shift the case to another county. Brennan should not have to trust Mulkeen's word, or worry that Suarez might have overruled him if his decision went the other way. Moving the case would remove any doubt, which is why ethics rules typically bar even the "appearance" of a conflict.

The committee is clearly suspicious of Suarez. It made two requests for documents, both of them rejected by Suarez. The first came in December and was a broad demand. The second was more narrow, asking for emails from four specific dates in April and May of 2017, soon after Brennan made her complaint.

How did the committee know those four dates? It seems clear its investigators are working with a whistleblower who had knowledge of the inner workings of Suarez's office.

Suarez herself seemed to confirm that in her rejection of the committee's request, which came from her counsel, Ralph Lamparello. In it, Lamparello notes that the committee's request noted that it had "received information that Prosecutor Suarez had received e-mail communications regarding Ms. Brennan's allegations."

I asked Mulkeen if Suarez was included on the investigative emails, which would indicate she is lying when she denies knowledge of the investigation. He wouldn't confirm or deny it. So, why is he giving her only a half-exoneration?

My guess is that the committee will escalate this fight over documents by issuing a subpoena, which members will discuss, according to Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, the co-chair. Watch for Suarez to be swearing her oath sometime soon.

I keep thinking about the human wreckage behind this case. Alavarez lost his job, and will forever be shamed, over a charge that we can't be sure is true, a charge that was never heard in a court of law.

And Brennan is living a familiar nightmare. She did everything a rape victim is supposed to do, went straight to police, submitted to intrusive rape kit investigation, called her husband and best friend right away. She worked quietly behind the scenes to get justice from Murphy's team, and was ignored. She went public, she testified with grand dignity under oath -- and now sleazy men are making sleazy calls to people like me, trying to discredit her in all the familiar ways.

Facing scandal and fiscal crisis, Murphy's challenges deepen | Moran

Suarez wouldn't talk to me. She could remove a great deal of suspicion by releasing the emails the committee is seeking, even if most of the content is redacted. She could clear this up in a flash. Why wouldn't she do that if she's telling the truth?

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal investigated Hudson County's handling of the case and gave Suarez a full-throated exoneration. My guess, though, is that he's regretting the last line in his exoneration letter, when he told the committee to drop its investigation of Suarez before it even got started. That was overreach with a political bent, and it annoyed legislators who are only doing their job of oversight.

As for Murphy, he's caught in a bind that's strangely similar to Suarez's. Murphy claims that he didn't know about Brennan's allegation until the Wall Street Journal called either, even though his senior staff knew, just as hers did. And Murphy, today, is still enforcing a gag order that blocks women who worked on his campaign from testifying about any sexual harassment they may have faced.

Here's a free tip for both of them: If you want people to believe you, stop hiding relevant information. It makes you look guilty -- even if you're not.

 

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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