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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spitzer was "spitting mad"

DA's report: Spitzer behind dirty tricks

...Bruno called the report proof that Spitzer lied to the public and was obsessed with a "political hit job" on him. "The scandal was a blatant abuse of government power," he said.

ALBANY, N.Y. - A prosecutor said Friday that former Gov. Eliot Spitzer may have lied when he told investigators he wasn't deeply involved in a plot that used a Republican rival's travel records in an effort to embarrass him. He added that Spitzer could have been indicted had he not resigned in disgrace in a prostitution scandal.

Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares said in a report that Spitzer's former communications director, Darren Dopp, recounted conversations and e-mails that indicated Spitzer directly ordered him in a profanity-laced exchange to give a reporter records regarding Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno's use of state aircraft on days he attended Republican fundraisers.

Dopp was provided immunity for his testimony in Soares' second investigation of the 2007 scandal. Dopp had faced a possible perjury charge because a statement released by the Spitzer administration about the scandal differed from his own testimony, but Soares found Friday that he did not commit perjury.

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

But Spitzer's resignation this month, after he was implicated in an investigation of a prostitution ring, made it impossible to file a charge against him because it meant he was no longer a public employee, the report said.

Spitzer, like Soares a Democrat, never testified under oath in the travel-records scandal. Instead, he was bound by a statute that required public officials to answer questions truthfully or face a charge of obstructing justice.

A spokeswoman for Spitzer declined to comment Friday.

Bruno called the report proof that Spitzer lied to the public and was obsessed with a "political hit job" on him. "The scandal was a blatant abuse of government power," he said.

Publicly, Spitzer has 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.

In his 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.

The report, however 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.

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.

Soares revisited the case 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. 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. "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.'"

The travel-records story ran in the Albany Times Union. Spitzer later suspended Dopp 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. Dopp had been an Associated Press reporter from 1985 to 1987.

The scandal led to gridlock in Albany and eroded Spitzer's once record-high popularity, which was shattered when the prostitution scandal broke this month. Some testimony and records still haven't been released, protected by Spitzer's executive privilege.