The panel that charged former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s aides with breaking the law in a political scandal may investigate if Spitzer was behind a pattern of obstacles that delayed the initial probe.
To view the Public Integrity Commission's final report on Troopergate, click here.
To read a copy of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's testimony, click here.
The Public Integrity Commission may, however, instead may choose to propose legislation that would specifically address penalties for such delaying tactics in future cases.
Commission Executive Director Herbert Teitelbaum told The Associated Press Friday that a “post-mortem” will see if the commission should investigate who orchestrated a series of obstacles, delaying tactics and “games” that prolonged the 10-month probe.
“We had obstacles thrown in our way,” Teitelbaum said. “We didn’t flinch.”
And there were many instances, from Spitzer aides trying to shield 109 documents from the commission under attorney-client privilege, to delaying the release of documents, to Spitzer’s use of “Laurence,” his rarely used middle name, as his only identifier in some office e-mails.
Teitelbaum said he and the 13-member commission, created in 2007 as one of Spitzer’s early attempts at government reform, decided during the probe not to pursue who was directing those obstacles. Instead, he said the focus was on whether Spitzer aides misused state police to compile travel records to publicly hurt then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Spitzer’s prime Republican adversary.
Teitelbaum called the question of who was directing aides to put up delays and roadblocks “a rabbit” that can pop up in big investigations.
“You can’t chase rabbits around the field,” he said. “To have looked into who created the obstacles would have taken a lot more time and we wanted the facts.”
Now, however, the commission will take a look at who turned the rabbit loose.
“We’ll explore how we think the commission should act when obstacles are placed in their way, when games are being played,” he said. “We’re going to do a post-mortem to see what, if anything ... we need to address.”
The delay in the case and the long silence from the commission prompted criticism about whether an entity created by Spitzer would effectively investigate Spitzer. The public criticism included charges that Teitelbaum and the commission, the majority nominated by Spitzer, weren’t seriously investigating the case that already had been probed by the state attorney general, the Albany County district attorney and a Senate investigations committee. None of those investigations ended with charges against anyone in the Spitzer administration.
Teitelbaum rejected the criticism and said he and the commission refused to comment during the investigation because the law prohibited it. The commission met often, including weekends, despite the diverse and full schedules of the 13 unpaid members, Teitelbaum said. A working group of five members worked closest with Teitelbaum as they decided who to interview, what documents to seek, and which avenues to pursue.
In the end, the commission found no evidence to charge Spitzer with an ethical violation, but left open the option of investigating anyone in the administration, including the former governor, if more evidence turns up.
That could happen if Darren Dopp, Spitzer’s former communications director, or Preston Felton, the former acting superintendent of state police under Spitzer, contest charges that they violated public officers law by misusing the state police for political purposes. They face fines if found guilty. Former Secretary to the Governor Richard Baum and former public safety Deputy Secretary William Howard accepted lesser charges that carry no fine.
Dopp is talking about fighting the charge. He has said he was simply following Spitzer orders.
Dopp’s attorney, Michael Koenig of Albany, said the investigation is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law.
The next step is up to an administrative law judge assigned to the commission who can call hearings and will examine the findings in Teitelbaum’s report. The judge also may subpoena witnesses and can further investigate, assess the credibility of witnesses, and issue a finding of fact and recommendation to the commission.
The commission can then accept or reject any of the judge’s finding and rule on whether Dopp and Felton violated state public officers law.
In a hearing, Dopp could repeat his accusations that Teitelbaum improperly contacted top Spitzer officials — which Teitelbaum denies — and try to make the case that he was made a fall guy by Spitzer supporters to protect Spitzer.
Before his $155,000-a-year state job, Teitelbaum was a partner in the Bryan Cave law firm in Manhattan. Since 2003, the firm contributed more than $119,000 to Spitzer’s campaigns for attorney general and governor. He said he was never a friend of Spitzer’s, but didn’t deny he once supported Spitzer: “So did 70 percent of New Yorkers,” he said, referring to Spitzer’s winning margin in the 2006 vote.
“I didn’t think it would be a cake walk,” Teitelbaum said Friday. “Investigations are not dinner parties.”