VOLUME 3, ISSUE 334 | August 19 - 25, 2004


Golan Cipel Speaks Out

The man at the center of McGreevey scandal talks to press in his native Israel


Golan Cipel, the former political appointee at the center of the sex scandal involving New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, returned to Israel this week and spoke to the press for the first time since the governor went on national television and declared: “And so my truth is that I am a gay American.”

Cipel, who was described by Israeli news reporters as looking haggard and emotional, quietly left the United States on Monday. Outside his parents apartment building in Rishon Letzion, a Tel Aviv suburb where he first met McGreevey, then the Woodbridge mayor, during a 1999 visit by New Jersey mayors, the former naval lieutenant denied that he was gay and said he and McGreevey were never involved romantically. Cipel reiterated the assertions his Manhattan attorney Allen M. Lowy made on his behalf last Friday in a written statement when Cipel said that after he was hired in 2002 in the his new administration, McGreevey began to make sexual advances.

“When I finally dared to reject Gov. McGreevey’s advances, the retaliatory actions taken by him and members of his administration were nothing short of abuse and intimidation,” read Lowy from a written statement.

Thus far, the Israeli national has only spoken to the press from his native country, speaking in Hebrew to the daily Yediot Ahronot over the weekend. “It doesn’t bother me that it is said I am gay, but I really am not. I’m straight,” said Cipel. “On the other hand, to accuse me of being an extortionist? Someone here has lost his mind.”

In his stunning announcement last Thursday, McGreevey apologized for having a consensual sexual relationship with another man, and violating his marriage vows.

“I realize the fact of this affair, and my own sexuality, if kept secret leaves me and most importantly the governor’s office vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure,” said McGreevey. Subsequently, various press accounts reported that since July, Cipel and his attorney were in negotiations with McGreevey’s office to avoid a public disclosure of the affair in return for a cash settlement reported at various amounts from $2 million to $50 million.

Before returning to Israel, Cipel spoke to Haaretz, another Israeli daily, on August 16, and discounted such allegations of extortion as a smear campaign propagated by the governor’s publicity machine.

“On one hand, I feel excruciating pain, frustration and fear,” Cipel said. “On the other hand, I am relieved that it all came out. When you are the subject of sexual harassment, you can’t just forget about it and run away. I tried. I went from denial to escape and from escape to depression. And it didn’t end. It’s like a black hole. You are drawn in and can’t get out. I understand that I had to cope with the problem, particularly because such a powerful man was involved.”

On August 17 in Israel, Cipel spoke about the central aspect of the scandal, his 2002 political appointment as a senior aide, a post that included advising the governor on security issues. His comments are the first suggestions in the public debate so far that press reports about the significance of his appointment may have been exaggerated.

“I was not under any circumstances, responsible for internal security under the governor,” Cipel told Haaretz. “I was responsible for the relationship between the governor’s office and the attorney general who deals with the issue, and also the Department of Homeland Security.

For example, when people wanted to arrange a meeting, I was supposed to arrange it. I did not participate in confidential meetings nor did I receive classified documents. There was a woman in the office responsible for the war against terror and internal security. When I met her, I told her, in no uncertain terms, ‘I am not an expert. My job is to make your life easier.’ That’s also what I told the state attorney general and his deputy.”

On January 24, 2002, McGreevey issued an executive order establishing the Office of Counter-Terrorism (OCT), in accordance with newly enacted legislation. The OCT was placed under the authority of the attorney general, Peter Harvey, with an assistant attorney general, Kathryn Flicker, having direct oversight. Cipel did not work for either Harvey or Flicker, but in the governor’s executive office, as a liaison to state officials with responsibility for security, as well as undertaking other jobs like doing outreach with Jewish voters.

Published reports have stated that Cipel was the head of homeland security, which appears to be an inaccurate description of his largely political assignment.

Cipel’s appointment to the post generated controversy once federal homeland security officials discovered he was not an American citizen. State lawmakers obtained a copy of a letter sent with Cipel’s application for a work visa with Immigration and Naturalization Services in which his qualifications appeared to be exaggerated for advising the governor on security issues, and reporters began to dub the Israeli as a “poet” who was bilking taxpayers with his six-figure salary.

Asked during this period by a reporter if he and Cipel had a romantic involvement, McGreevey snapped, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

By March, 2002, after less than two months at the advisory post, Cipel resigned form the position, but McGreevey kept him on as a “policy counselor” at the same salary until August, 2002, when Cipel then left for MMW Group, one of the state’s largest lobbying and public relations firms. In the wake of his resignation, however, many questions remained about his ongoing relationship with the governor.

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