Prosecutor: Spitzer directly behind Bruno plot

March 28, 2008 7:32:35 PM PDT
A criminal prosecutor said Friday that former Gov. Eliot Spitzer ordered the dirty tricks travel records scandal to discredit Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno despite the former governor's public denials.Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares said his second investigation of the scandal finds former Spitzer aide Darren Dopp was directly ordered by Spitzer in a profanity laced exchange to release records that could embarrass Bruno and perhaps lead him deeper into a federal investigation.

The report paints a picture of the former Democratic governor as "spitting mad" at Bruno. Dopp's testimony claims that Spitzer not only timed the release of the records for political advantage, but reviewed them personally at least twice and repeatedly called Dopp at home to check on progress of the news stories about the documents.

Dopp said Spitzer had also told him that the governor arranged for a former state police official to talk to a New York Times reporter to show there had been a long time concern over Bruno's use of state aircraft. Afterward, Dopp recounted a conversation with a top administration lawyer in which Dopp claimed the lawyer said the administration wouldn't defend Dopp out of fear of being charged with perjury.

Bruno calls the report proof that Spitzer lied to the public and was obsessed with a "political hit job" on the Republican leader. "The scandal was a blatant abuse of government power."

Bruno's full statement is at the bottom of this story.

Soares, a Democrat, called for no action against Spitzer or any aides. He specifically found that Dopp didn't commit perjury. Soares said Spitzer's denials to investigators last year conflict with Dopp's account, but Spitzer can't be charged with a crime under Soares' jurisdiction because Spitzer is no longer a public employee, according to the report.

Spitzer resigned two weeks ago after he was implicated in an investigation of a prostitution ring.

In September, Soares issued a report saying no one in the Spitzer administration acted improperly and that there was no evidence of a plot to discredit Bruno. Two aides argued they were following orders to fulfill media requests seeking records. Spitzer disciplined them both.

But Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found two top Spitzer aides misused state police to compile records of Bruno's use of state aircraft on days he attended Republican fundraisers and released them to a reporter.

Soares recently returned to the case, however, and further investigated Dopp's role after a statement provided for him by Spitzer administration lawyers seemed to conflict with Dopp's testimony to the state Public Integrity Commission, which is also investigating. Dopp was questioned by Soares during the second investigation.

Friday's report said that at first, in May 2007, Spitzer just wanted to "monitor the situation" after Dopp said a reporter asked for Bruno's flight records. Spitzer didn't want "anything to interfere with the possible ... conclusion of the legislative session," Dopp was quoted as saying in Soares' report.

But in June, when Bruno was blocking Spitzer's initiatives in the Legislature, top Spitzer aides discussed providing the flight records to "the feds" after they read in the newspaper that Bruno was being investigated by the FBI for business dealings.

Dopp said that on June 25 or June 26, governor's Secretary Rich Baum told him, "Eliot wants you to release the records."

Dopp said he went into Spitzer's office to make sure. Dopp told investigators that he told Spitzer: "Boss, you're OK with the release of the plane records?"

"According to Dopp, the governor replied, `Yeah, do it,"' the Soares report said.

"Dopp asked Spitzer: 'Are you sure?"' noting Bruno would be angry.

Dopp said Spitzer then used vulgarities to describe Bruno and ordered Dopp to "shove it up his (expletive) with a red-hot poker."

"He was drinking a cup of coffee," Dopp told investigators, "as he was saying it, he was like spitting a little bit. He was spitting mad."

The report stated: "When asked whether he considered the governor telling him to release the records was a directive, Dopp stated that, `You couldn't mistake that based upon the words that were used."'

After the story ran in the Albany Times Union, Spitzer sent an e-mail to Dopp: "Will other media pick up on bruno (sic) story?"

In early July, Dopp said Spitzer told him that he had his press secretary, Christine Anderson, arrange for a former state police official to "talk to a reporter from the New York Times ... (to) confirm that (the state police) had long held concerns about Mr. Bruno's use of the aircraft."

Spitzer had suspended Dopp by this time and transferred the other aide involved, William Howard, out of the executive chamber. Dopp would eventually leave the governor's office, after serving Spitzer for eight years as attorney general and a year as governor.

Publicly, Spitzer said he had only cursory knowledge of the reporter's request for travel records and that his aides were overzealous. Spitzer apologized to Bruno for the aides' behavior.

Dopp's personal journal carried an August entry in which he recounted a conversation with Spitzer administration attorney David Nocenti. Dopp said he asked Nocenti, a friend, why the administration didn't disagree with state Attorney General Cuomo's investigative report that found Dopp and Howard committed misconduct.

"We didn't want to be ambushed," Dopp recalled Nocenti telling him. Then Dopp said Nocenti added: "He would have charged us with perjury."

The scandal led to gridlock in Albany and destroyed Spitzer's once record-high popularity.

There was no immediate comment from Spitzer's spokeswoman, Anna Cordasco.

The report reveals Spitzer's testimony last year to Soares. Spitzer flatly denied that he directed the gathering of any documents concerning Bruno's flights and didn't order the release of any documents to the news media.

"If Dopp's testimony is credited," the report states, "then former Governor Spitzer's answers were not truthful. Accordingly, we intended to present these conflicting accounts to a grand jury."

That, however, was before Spitzer resigned in the prostitution scandal, eliminating Soares' jurisdiction in the case.

"Let us be clear," the report concluded, "political plotting and games are not in the best interest of New York State. "

Some testimony and records still haven't been released, protected by Spitzer's executive privilege.

Cuomo told Gov. David Paterson, Spitzer's former lieutenant governor, that only a court or Spitzer can remove Spitzer's executive privilege. Cuomo said Spitzer should relinquish his privilege "for the sake of the public's right to full disclosure and transparency."

Open government and "transparency" were Spitzer's watchwords as attorney general and candidate for governor in 2006.

"A political plot involving state police by senior state officials is a toxic brew," Cuomo said in a statement. "In government, even a legitimate goal does not justify unscrupulous means. This situation also proves the old adage, 'The cover-up is worse than the crime."'

Bruno issued the following statement:

"The report released today by the Albany County District Attorney's Office confirms what I have been saying all along, that former Governor Eliot Spitzer lied to the people of this State about his direct knowledge and involvement in the Troopergate scandal; that he was obsessed with conducting a political "hit job" to damage me personally and politically; and that the administration enlisted favored members of the news media, principally the Albany Times Union to carry out their plot.

The report represents a turnaround from the District Attorney's report issued last September that cleared the Governor of any wrongdoing. That report was done after a so-called "investigation" in which the DA did not place anyone under oath and was clearly issued as cover for then-Governor Spitzer and his administration.

I feel it was a serious mistake not to present this information to a grand jury and proceed with a prosecution, as there is clearly evidence of criminal conduct.

I urge Governor Paterson to take appropriate action against those involved in the plot and cover-up, and who should not continue to represent him and the Executive Chamber.

This scandal was a blatant abuse of government power. This time it was aimed at me. However, these abuses should present a concern to all New Yorkers. It also illustrates the importance of having checks and balances in State government and avoiding one-party rule and power.

While we will continue to move forward with measures to address some of the legislative issues raised by this scandal, this report sheds more light on a sad and disgraceful chapter in New York State history and on a Governor who clearly had his priorities wrong and, as I said so often, lacked the temperament to govern."