Andrew Cuomo Scolds Eliot Spitzer Over Bruno Allegations

spitzer web 072307 Andrew Cuomo Scolds Eliot Spitzer Over Bruno AllegationsIs it too soon to start calling Eliot Spitzer “embattled?”

At the very least, he’s sporting another prominent bruise after the release of a report today by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo finding that the governor’s aides acted improperly in an attempt to damage the reputation of Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

Following a report at the beginning of this month in the Times Union, the office Mr. Spitzer — who has been engaged in a running series of increasingly personal battles with Mr. Bruno — sought an investigation into the use of the upstate Republican’s use of state-funded helicopters to fly to New York City when fund-raising events were going on.

Today’s report from the attorney general’s office not only cleared Mr. Bruno of wrongdoing, but sharply criticized the governor and his aides for seeking, essentially, to use a request for information from the Times Union to press state law enforcement authorities into tricking up a case against Mr. Bruno.

From the report:

The Governor’s Office planned to obtain information concerning Senator Bruno’s use of state aircraft for the purpose of giving this information to the media. Under the pretext of responding to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, the Governor’s liaison caused the Acting Superintendent of the State Police to (1) create documents detailing where the State Police had driven Senator Bruno, and (2) report details of Senator Bruno’s requests for ground transportation, upcoming schedules, and changes to those schedules. This conduct deviated from State Police standard operating procedures and past practices, and was not required by FOIL.

Mr. Spitzer responded shortly after the release of the report with a statement announcing his intention to suspend longtime press aide Darren Dopp indefinitely and reassign Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security William Howard outside the governor’s office.

“The steps I am taking today are designed to assure that the standard for integrity and excellence that I have demanded will always be met,” the statement said.

One of the most damaging elements of today’s report was an email sent in May showing two of Mr. Spitzer’s top aides, Rich Baum and Darren Dopp, discussing ways to spread the Joe Bruno story to reporters. That is, just before any reporters had filed any Freedom of Information requests or made any formal inquiries about Mr. Bruno.

But as late as a few weeks ago, Spitzer was defending the actions of his aides, two of whom he suspended earlier today.

At a press availability in his midtown office shortly after the release of his formal statement, Mr. Spitzer told reporters that his aides had misled him, and said that at the time he thought they had been acting appropriately.

Surrounded by reporters, the governor offered this statement:

“First, I would observe that the facts as reported in the document, the report that was issued today, in fact do make it — without embracing your adjectives — make it clear that there were some conversations among those individuals on how to illicit information. Whether or not it was responsive to a media inquiry at that time is something the attorney general has concluded it was not. Obviously I believed at the time when I answered the question two weeks ago, three weeks ago — I forget the precise date — that it was. I became aware of this discrepancy recently.”

Asked about Mr. Baum, Mr. Spitzer said, “I have complete confidence in his judgment and integrity.”