Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson is sticking by embattled Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., suggesting during an interview with me this afternoon that AG Andrew Cuomo could have gone much harder on the Bronx lawmaker if his alleged misdeeds were indeed so nefarious.

Cuomo yesterday called the charges he levied against Espada “outrageous,” adding: “I have not seen anything on this scale.”

Sampson, who is an attorney, stopped short of agreeing with Espada’s claim that Cuomo’s case was politically motivated, but did say “there were things that the attorney general could have done.”

“You have to think about the magnitude of this,” Sampson told me. “He could have asked for a temporary restraining order, which prevented Senator Espada’s health care from receiving any monies from any government entities or he could ask for a preliminary injunction, which again would have prevented his entity from operating.”

“These are things he could have utilized to prevent his facility from operating if there is such widespread abuse, fraud and mismanagement going on. And people need to think that and you wouldn’t know that unless you had a legal mind and you know the remedies available to the attorney general.”

Sampson said he sees no reason why Espada should heed the calls for him to voluntarily step down, noting he is at this point merely facing civil charges. In the past, senators (Kevin Parker, Hiram Monserrate) have been stripped of their titles and lulus after being indicted on criminal charges – even if they had not yet been found guilty.

The conference leader and I also discussed the budget (at length) and he grew quite animated – more so than I’ve ever seen him – about the need to provide property tax relief. You can watch the entire interview at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. tonight. We’ll also be posting the interview in its entirety here.