Share this article

print logo

Smear probe to receive no help from Spitzer staff

Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer signaled Wednesday his office would not cooperate with any legislative investigation into the political scandal plaguing his administration, calling threats of public hearings an attempt "to distract state government from the people's business that must move forward."

"The State Senate lacks the constitutional authority to conduct investigatory hearings into the internal operations of the governor's office," said Christine Anderson, the governor's spokeswoman.

The statement insisting that the matter was closed was issued a day after revelations that two of the governor's closest advisers had refused to be interviewed by State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo's investigators about who on the governor's staff had participated in a scheme to smear State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno of Brunswick, a Republican and the chief political enemy of the governor, a Democrat.

Bruno, meanwhile, insisted the Senate will examine the activities of key people in the governor's office, setting the stage for a constitutional showdown between the state's executive and legislative branches.

Senate Republican investigators began seeking documents Wednesday for possible public hearings and an attempt to force Spitzer to testify under oath.

"This is not going to go away. It's not going to get swept under a rug until we know the truth," Bruno said in Saratoga Springs, during his first public appearance since Cuomo issued a report saying two Spitzer aides had prompted State Police officials to gather information to discredit Bruno.

But Cuomo's investigators never interviewed Spitzer or two of his closest advisers -- Richard Baum, the governor's secretary, and Darren Dopp, his communications director. Spitzer was not asked to talk, and the other two refused requests for interviews. A day before the attorney general released his report, both submitted two-paragraph statements denying wrongdoing.

"The wheels have come off the steamroller," said Bruno, referring to the description Spitzer had given himself earlier this year. He also suggested the State Commission of Investigation look into the case.

The commission, established in 1951 by Gov. Thomas E. Dewey to investigate corruption, has a broad reach across state agencies and subpoena power. It consists of six members, with the governor, Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver each appointing two.

In December, then-Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, named both gubernatorial appointees -- including John Cahill, his chief adviser -- to four-year terms.

Bruno said the Senate investigations committee is gearing up for a probe. State Sen. George H. Winner Jr., an Elmira Republican and committee chairman, asked Cuomo to turn over investigative records.

"We are happy to cooperate with Sen. Winner's request to the extent the law permits," said Jeffrey Lerner, a spokesman for Cuomo, Spitzer's fellow Democrat. But Lerner did not say whether documents from the investigation would be released.

Bruno said he has learned the Senate investigative panel has subpoena power, adding, "We can subpoena the governor."

Anderson, acting communications director while Dopp is on unpaid leave, said any Senate hearings on the issue would be "a complete waste of state taxpayer dollars for purely partisan and political purposes."

A constitutional battle like the one shaping up between Spitzer and the State Senate would be the first in at least a century, said Peter J. Galie, a State Constitution expert at Canisius College. He also said Spitzer might have legal standing to reject -- or try to reject -- subpoenas for him or his aides.

"He's going to say that . . . any attempt by another branch to exercise powers that would interfere with the operation of the other branch, in this case the executive branch, would be beyond their authority," Galie said.

Cuomo's report said Dopp directed an effort to gather embarrassing information about Bruno's use of state aircraft and then leak it to the Albany Times Union.

William F. Howard, Spitzer's deputy homeland security secretary, had regular contact with acting State Police Superintendent Preston L. Felton on tracking Bruno's travels. Both Cuomo and Albany County District Attorney David Soares said this week that Bruno's trips were legal.

Howard is being transferred out of the governor's office, but officials won't say where. Felton has not been sanctioned, although State Senate officials say that, if Spitzer nominated him as superintendent, he would be confirmed.

In a letter this week to Bruno, Felton apologized for his role, saying he never "knowingly" involved the State Police in political matters.

Saying he had been misled, Spitzer has denied any knowledge of the aides' actions.

But Bruno said Spitzer has a reputation as a "micromanager" and expressed anger over Baum and Dopp's refusal to answer questions under oath that could have shed light on the scandal.

State Sen. Thomas K. Duane of Manhattan, the ranking Democrat on the investigations committee, said Wednesday that any investigation, if undertaken, should be conducted by the state Ethics Commission.

By the end of summer, however, that commission, is scheduled to be replaced by a broader ethics and lobbying oversight panel that Spitzer controls.


There are no comments - be the first to comment