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Republicans want special prosecutor in Spitzer probe Poll shows support for governor declining

State Senate Republicans Monday called for the state attorney general to act as special prosecutor to probe improper use of the State Police by Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's staff to discredit Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, in yet another sign that the scandal continues to consume the Capitol.

The newest development stemmed from Sen. George H. Winner Jr. of Elmira, chairman of the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee, who said naming Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo as a special prosecutor is the most effective way to ensure the independence and credibility of further investigations.

"A comprehensive resolution to this matter requires that you appoint the attorney general as a special prosecutor with full subpoena power by executive order to explore the troubling questions which go beyond the attorney general's original mandate," Winner wrote to Spitzer.

Winner's move won immediate support from Bruno, who accused the governor's closest aides of stonewalling the probe after Cuomo was unable to interview them. He also said the investigation of Inspector General Kristine Hamann amounted to "no inspector general's report at all."

"The public has a right to an objective effort to get to the truth and to know whether these serious allegations involving the governor and his staff are true," Bruno said Monday.

Other Monday developments included:

*The Associated Press reported the State Ethics Commission has collected executive branch records to launch its own investigation.

*The AP also reported significant contributions to the Spitzer campaign from the law firm of a top official of the Ethics Commission.

*The New York Post reported two top Spitzer administrators were secretly named "special counsels" to "debrief" and coach two central figures -- Secretary to the Governor Richard Baum and Communications Director Darren Dopp.

*A new poll showed more than half of New Yorkers surveyed believe the governor knew his top aides were involved, pinning a "credibility problem" on Spitzer.

But the day's big news was Winner's demand for a special prosecutor in a case revolving around the alleged conspiracy to have the State Police collect information about Bruno's use of state helicopters to conduct both official and political business, then release the information to the Albany Times-Union.

Winner also questioned the independence of the Ethics Commission after the AP reported that the law firm of its new executive director -- Herbert Teitelbaum -- had contributed about $100,000 to Spitzer's campaign for governor. That included a $10,000 contribution from the Bryan Cave law firm in May, a month before Teitelbaum was named executive director of the Ethics Commission.

"As its members are appointed by the executive, there will be questions to its independence as well," Winner wrote. "The attorney general, as an independently elected public official, would have unfettered jurisdiction to review all aspects of this matter including any falling under the penal law."

Spitzer spokeswoman Christine Anderson said Monday that the administration continues to believe that probes conducted by the attorney general and inspector general have determined no wrongdoing, so the appointment of a special prosecutor is unnecessary. But she also said the administration is confident that the Ethics Commission can impartially investigate the situation.

"We have confidence in the commission to determine whether further inquiry is needed," she said.

Bruno said the governor's rejection of a special prosecutor fails to restore confidence in him.

"This is the wrong decision because the public demands answers to many questions that still remain," he said. "In light of this, the Senate will continue to review all options that are available."

In another development, the Post reported that Spitzer aides Sean P. Maloney and Peter Pope were named special counsels to grant administration officials a cloak of "lawyer-client privilege," blocking Cuomo's investigators from interviewing them.

But Anderson said the "story couldn't be more wrong." "It was the exact opposite," she said. "The fact is we had these guys do a thorough search to turn over what was relevant. If we hadn't turned over these documents, the [attorney general] would have had no investigation."

Spitzer has acknowledged throughout the controversy that his administration has made mistakes, and he elaborated on that theme in a Sunday op-ed article in the New York Times.

"We can get bogged down in partisan politics that serve only to distract us from the business at hand -- the kind of headhunting that we're beginning to see for people in my administration who were cleared by these investigations," he wrote.

Meanwhile, a new Siena Research Institute poll said most New Yorkers believe Spitzer knew his top aides were using the State Police to gather information against Bruno.

While the poll of 620 registered voters show Spitzer rated as the most effect state leader and shows the governor still with a better than 2:1 favorability rating, his numbers have significantly fallen.

"In the last month, Spitzer's favorability rating has fallen from 3:1 to 2:1 positive," Siena poll spokesman Steven Greenberg said. "His job performance rating is negative for the first time since he took office. And he is developing a credibility problem with voters since he continues to maintain that he had no knowledge of what his aides were up to, yet by a margin of 51 to 28 percent, voters think he did know."

Spitzer's favorable rating is 59 to 28 percent -- down from 62 to 22 percent in June and 75 to 10 percent in January. While 46 percent say he is doing an excellent or good job, 48 percent say he is doing a fair or poor job compared with 55 and 37 percent respectively in June.

"At the same time, however, voters overwhelmingly think he has been the most effective state leader over the first half of 2007, and despite the scandal, voters believe the governor is committed to reforming Albany, by a margin of 58 to 28 percent," Greenberg said.

Anderson said the poll results are to be expected given the news of the last week.

"It's understandable that you would see a dip," she said.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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