The attorney for a former employee of New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey said yesterday that his client was the victim of repeated sexual advances by the governor and is now the target of a campaign by the Democrat to sully his reputation.
Allen M. Lowy, a lawyer for Golan Cipel, a former homeland security adviser to the governor, said McGreevey had attempted "to make my client a double victim -- first the sexual harassment by the governor, and now he's a victim of an attempted smear campaign."
Micah Rasmussen, McGreevey's spokesman, said: "These are completely and totally false allegations from a person trying to exploit his relationship with the governor. The matter has been referred to federal authorities for investigation."
McGreevey, 47, announced Thursday that he will step down Nov. 15 after disclosing that he had engaged in an adulterous affair with a man -- confirmed by a former aide to be Cipel -- that left the governor vulnerable to "false allegations and threats of disclosure." With his wife at his side, he also declared that he is "a gay American."
Shortly before that admission, McGreevey and his representatives contacted the FBI to complain that Cipel had sought money from the governor and threatened to file a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment, said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D), a friend of McGreevey's and vice chairman of the state Democratic Committee.
"The governor and his attorneys reached out to the FBI," Cryan said in a telephone interview. "This is an extortion threat."
An FBI spokesman in Newark would not confirm the complaint and declined to comment. A person close to McGreevey said Cipel, 35, had demanded $5 million.
Lowy denied that Cipel demanded a payoff.
"In fact it was Mr. McGreevey's representatives who, without provocation, offered a sum of money to make my client go away," he said in a statement that he read to reporters. "But money was never the ultimate goal in my client's search for justice."
Lowy said Cipel felt "somewhat vindicated" by McGreevey's decision to step down. "What the future will hold with regard to filing a lawsuit or any other action is something only time will tell," he said.
Republicans on Friday called upon McGreevey to leave office immediately rather than in November, saying a chief executive entangled in a sex scandal could not do his job properly. Joe Kyrillos, chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee, said that "it will be extremely difficult for him and his administration to govern effectively over the course of the next three months."
Under the state's constitution, Senate President Richard J. Codey (D) will serve in both his current job and as acting governor until the completion of McGreevey's term in early 2006. If McGreevey leaves office before Sept. 3, however, a special election must be held -- leading to speculation that the governor delayed his departure chiefly to help his party hang on to power.
Juliet Johnson, a McGreevey spokeswoman, said of the Republicans: "It's unfortunate that they are playing politics with what was a very intense, personal decision. The decision he made he did . . . in order to ensure a smooth and orderly transition. . . . It's absurd to think we would be able to hand over the reins in a matter of days."
McGreevey has other political problems. In recent months federal prosecutors in Newark have indicted two men who are top fundraisers for him. McGreevey's name appears 83 times in the indictment of one of the men, and Cipel recently worked for the other fundraiser.
McGreevey met Cipel in 2000 during a trade and political trip to Israel, according to news accounts and a person close to McGreevey. The future governor was the mayor of Woodbridge, N.J., and Cipel, a native of Israel, was a spokesman for the mayor of a city near Tel Aviv.
Several months later Cipel came to the United States to work on McGreevey's gubernatorial campaign and was paid by the Democratic State Committee. McGreevey also helped Cipel get a public relations job with developer Charles Kushner, a major campaign fundraiser who is one of the men now under indictment.
As governor in 2002, McGreevey named Cipel to be his adviser on homeland security, a job that paid $110,000 a year. But Cipel, a published poet and former officer in the Israeli navy, left state government after news organizations and state Republicans repeatedly raised questions about his qualifications. Cipel soon landed jobs at two politically connected businesses.
Political analysts said questions about McGreevey's close relationship with Cipel have persisted for years, but few people expected it would lead to the kind of political meltdown the governor experienced this week.
Now the question is whether McGreevey can survive the controversy long enough to remain in office until November.
"I think he can, unless the anticipated lawsuit is so seamy that the governor would be clearly distracted from performing his duties," said David Rebovich, managing director of the Rider Institute for New Jersey Politics. "If it turns out that the daily coverage resembles the Kobe Bryant trial, then I think Jim McGreevey would take a deep breath and say, 'I simply have to get out of here. It's not good for me, and it's certainly not good for New Jersey.' "
Researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report. Garcia reported from Trenton, N.J.