State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is not about to let Governor Eliot Spitzer off the hook after one of the worst summers any newly elected governor has ever endured. Mr. Bruno, the target of a nasty campaign launched by aides to Mr. Spitzer earlier this year, is planning to authorize three special investigations of the governor’s office.
While it’s true that two other investigations are under way, Mr. Bruno has reason to believe that the probes are so much window dressing, that they will uncover nothing beyond what the public already knows about the dirty tricks that backfired in the governor’s face in the past few months. At issue, among other things, is the alleged use of state police in gathering political intelligence on Mr. Bruno for use by top-level gubernatorial staff.
This surely is a case of chickens coming home to roost. After seeing firsthand how executive power was abused by Mr. Spitzer’s staff, Mr. Bruno has no reason to believe that the two allegedly independent investigations—one by the Albany County district attorney, the other by the moribund State Ethics Commission—will actually conduct a thorough probe of the governor’s office. The Albany County DA, David Soares, is a Democrat, as Mr. Spitzer is, and is not known for his independence. The head of the State Ethics Commission, John Feerick, is a friend of the governor.
Mr. Bruno, who controls the Republican-run State Senate, plans to launch investigations by three Senate committees. And they will be looking into more than just the failed campaign to discredit Mr. Bruno. The investigations also will reportedly look at loans provided by the governor’s father, Bernard Spitzer, to Mr. Spitzer’s campaigns for attorney general in 1994 and 1998. They will also focus on what role, if any, the governor’s office may had in the New York Racing Association’s hiring of a Manhattan law firm as it desperately seeks to retain its hold on New York’s thoroughbred racing franchise.
Mr. Spitzer and his aides clearly have not been forthcoming about this absurd scandal, so Mr. Bruno intends to force them into the open. They should not be hiding behind the curtain of executive privilege. They ought to be answering pointed questions under oath. The current effort of Mr. Spitzer’s staff to control a limited release of e-mails is not helping the governor, and in fact creates a climate of suspicion. The “cover-up” is always more damaging than the crime, as Richard Nixon demonstrated. Voters will accept the truth, however unpleasant, over a persistent policy of hiding from investigators.
Mr. Spitzer has only himself to blame for this mess. He decided early on in his tenure that Senator Bruno was an enemy, and proceeded to treat him as if he were a suspect and not simply the leader of a dissident political faction. The governor insisted that he was not aware of his staff’s shenanigans. Perhaps he wasn’t—but who can know for sure, without a legitimate investigation?
Mr. Spitzer won the governor’s office in one of the greatest landslides in New York history. He had a mandate to bring about change, and the skills to do so. But the only way he will be able to restart his gubernatorial term is by compelling his team to tell all.