Tempest In A Troopergate Teapot? (Updated)
Below you will find, compliments of the TU’s CapCon, the Troopergate-related memo Gov. Andrew Cuomo so desperately wanted to keep from public view that he sent two top aides to the state Archives to remove it from the cache of documents there that date back to his four-year term as state attorney general.
The removal occurred AFTER TU reporters Jimmy Vielkind and Jim Odato had already photocopied the document, which they in a box of notebooks that had been kept by Ellen Biben, who ran the Public Integrity Bureau when Cuomo was attorney general, was elevated to the postition of state inspector general when he became governor and is now the executive director of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
The New York Times reported this morning that the Archives told its reporters in June that it had no Troopergate documents. Archives spokesman Dennis Tompkins later said was a mistake.
Archives officials told the TU in May that there was indeed a Troopergate folder in their possession, but it was removed from public view by the Cuomo administration – specifically, Linda Lacewell – because it fell under the categories of documents that the Freedom of Information Law deems protectable.
Former AG/Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was the target of the Troopergate investigation (remember: it all stems from the then-governor’s efforts to use the State Police to track the use of state aircraft by his political nemesis, then-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, in hopes of catching him breaking the rules), told the Times he was “deeply troubled” by Cuomo’s treatement of this document, which he believes “would reflect upon the underlying integrity of a report that I always viewed to be fundamentally flawed.”
And that sparked yet another round of tit-for-tat between Cuomo and Spitzer, whose animosity dates back to the days when the former was a hard-charging, up-and-coming secretary of HUD and the latter was a hard-charging, up-and-coming AG.
The funny thing about all this is that the document in question isn’t the smoking gun, bombshell sort of thing that you would expect merits this sort of treatment.
It is indeed interesting – especially for those of us who covered the Troopergate mess and know all the players.
The memo documents how Cuomo’s office went about trying to prove that Bruno’s claim that his use of state aircraft at the taxpayers’ expense was justified because he mixed state business with political activities.
Cuomo’s office interviewed a number of lobbyists and people with business interests before the state with whom Bruno said he met, including Ken Riddett, a former top aide to Bruno; former US Sen. Al D’Amato (a longtime Bruno ally and GOP donor); and Pat Lynch, a former top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and employer of Darren Dopp, Spitzer’s former chief spokesman who was the first Troopergate victim.
As far as I can tell, none of these people were placed under oath. As you’ll recall, Cuomo didn’t have subpoena power while conducting this report. (The AG does NOT have subpoena power for public integrity cases, which is something Cuomo tried to change in the wake of Troopergate, but has declined to provide to his successor, AG Eric Schneiderman, now that he’s governor).
There is one problematic issue in the memo, which is May 18.
Apparently, Bruno took the state helicopter down to Manhattan on May 17, had a business lunch (attended by former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, another Spitzer nemesis) and a business meeting (with lobbyist Bruce Gyory and his clients) and then attended a fund-raiser.
The next day, he took the helicopter home to the Capital Region, but engaged in no official business in NYC, which raised questions about whether that trip was appropriate.
Cuomo never mentioned that May 18 trip in the Troopergate report in which he pretty much exonerated Bruno, saying the rules governing the use of state aircraft were so porous as to be almost impossible to break, and excoriated Spitzer and his aides, accusing them of misusing the State Police to try to smear the majority leader and then lying to cover it up.
UPDATE: The administration points out that the May 18 conundrum IS in fact briefly mentioned in the report on P. 49. To wit:
“The investigation disclosed that the May 17, 2007 meetings at 12:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. related to legislative or official state business. No meetings were held on the following date, when the Senator and his staff used state aircraft to return to Albany. Thus, legislative business was conducted, but the balance of the days’ schedules was not dedicated to official state business.”
“Notwithstanding the limited nature of the legislative business conducted on some of the trips, there is no legal basis to conclude that Senator Bruno’s use of the state aircraft violated any state policy. It is plain, however, that in some instances the state’s permissive policy allowed the use of state aircraft in a manner that did not adequately protect taxpayer resources.”
In a 1,300-word letter to the TU, Cuomo’s communication’s director, Richard Bamberger, accuses the newspaper of trying to atone for its role in the Troopergate scandal by “manufacturing” a story about new evidence coming to light in the Troopergate mess.
Bamberger rips into the paper, and insists that Troopergate “has been exhaustively reviewed and put to rest,” and the governor is “proud of the Troopergate report which brought the truth to light without fear or favor to anyone.”
“We understand why you might want to undermine the Troopergate report even five years after its issuance, given your participation in the underlying events,” Bamberger wrote.
“But it would be shameful for you to compound your prior errors by making use of your news pages to try to rehabilitate your own image by manufacturing doubt about professional work done by career prosecutors in the public interest.”
That’s a classic shoot-the-messenger-to-muddy-the-water approach, but still doesn’t explain why, if the governor is so proud of – and confident in – the Troopergate report and all the work that went into it, his office went to such great lengths to keep a document related to it out of the public view.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Liz Benjamin on July 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm, and is filed under Andrew Cuomo, Eliot Spitzer, Joe Bruno, Uncategorized. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|