State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has been given the unenviable task of investigating Governor David Paterson’s response to accusations that a top aide, David Johnson, assaulted a female companion last fall. The State Police allegedly were called into the case, not to investigate but, it would seem, to squash it, and the governor himself spoke with the victim. Several of Mr. Paterson’s aides have resigned in disgust.
Mr. Paterson denies any inappropriate behavior. But unless he knows something we don’t, the case looks pretty clear. All the more reason for Mr. Cuomo to hand off this investigation—and another, into the governor’s acceptance of free Yankees’ World Series tickets last year—to an independent counsel. It’s a no-win situation for the attorney general, who was poised to challenge Mr. Paterson, a fellow Democrat, in a primary this year until the governor suspended his campaign when news of the Johnson case broke in the press last month.
Consider Mr. Cuomo’s options: If Mr. Paterson is not indicted despite the mountain of damning evidence, the attorney general surely will be accused of going easy on a fellow Democrat, the man Mr. Cuomo hopes to succeed as governor. If Mr. Cuomo does pursue and win an indictment of the governor, Mr. Paterson’s allies—yes, he still has a few, and they are not without influence—will question the attorney general’s motives and surely will portray Mr. Paterson as a victim of Mr. Cuomo’s ambitions.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Mr. Cuomo emerges unscathed. Although Mr. Cuomo’s conduct as attorney general has been exemplary, he certainly knows that this case is loaded with political implications. The best road here is the high road: Mr. Cuomo should announce that in the interests of justice and fairness, he will turn over the case to an independent prosecutor. This would require him to concede that he is a quasi-candidate for governor, something he has been reluctant to do. But that time has come.
As a candidate for Mr. Paterson’s current job, Mr. Cuomo simply cannot oversee an investigation of the governor’s office. It’s not a question of trust, but a question of appearance and propriety. It’s not fair, but in today’s toxic political atmosphere, it’s the best choice for the attorney general.