The state Public Integrity Commission on Thursday charged four former state officials — but not former Gov. Eliot Spitzer — with misusing state police to discredit the governor’s political foe, the first charges to come out of the year-old scandal that paralyzed state government.
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 commission found insufficient evidence to charge anyone else but harshly criticized Spitzer and his administration for a lack of cooperation in the investigation despite public promises to cooperate fully. The Spitzer administration claimed executive privilege and sought to withhold 109 documents “without legitimate basis,” according to the panel’s report released Thursday.
The report also complained that the executive chamber created “numerous improper obstacles” to the investigation by withholding documents and gradually releasing information over 10 months.
The Spitzer administration’s “spurious claims of privilege unnecessarily and improperly delayed the commission’s investigation,” a lack of cooperation that was “flatly at odds with its duty to assist the commission’s investigation and the promises of Governor Spitzer that the administration was cooperating fully,” the report said.
By not charging Spitzer, the commission drew sharp criticism from former Lobbying Commission Chair David Grandeau, whose panel was replaced by the Public Integrity Commission.
“The whitewash is continuing,” Grandeau said Thursday. “It’s been a year of making sure Eliot doesn’t get blamed.”
A spokeswoman for Spitzer said the report “makes clear there is no evidence that he violated the Public Officers Law.
“Indeed the report confirms what Governor Spitzer has said throughout: that he understood the information to be public and accordingly its release was proper and obligatory. He is saddened by the toll this investigation has taken on public servants who were simply trying to do their jobs,” Brandy Bergman said in a written statement.
Spitzer resigned March 17 after he was identified in a federal prostitution investigation.
The commission found former Spitzer aides Darren Dopp, Richard Baum and William Howard and former state police head Preston Felton conspired to smear then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno by releasing his travel records to a reporter. At issue were trips by Bruno in May and June to New York City on days he met with lobbyists and attended Republican fundraisers.
If found to have violated the code of ethics in Public Officers Law, Dopp could face a $10,000 fine. He has since left state government.
Felton, who was acting state police superintendent, faces two ethics violations that could each carry a $10,000 fine. Now retired, he was accused of working with Dopp to compile, and in some cases recreate, records of Bruno’s travel on state aircraft operated by state police. Dopp was Spitzer’s communications director.
The state police records access officer testified that travel itineraries of a state official were usually withheld on the theory that releasing them could endanger the life or safety of the official.
Baum, Spitzer’s secretary, and Howard, a top public security aide, settled their cases by accepting charges that carry no penalty. Both have left state government.
“I will contest the charges because I do not believe I did anything wrong in releasing public records at the request of the media and at the specific direction of the governor,” Dopp said in a prepared statement. “I can and will refute the commission’s claims and look forward to doing so in the appropriate forum.”
Howard declined comment on the report. Felton had no published telephone number and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“This settlement allows Rich to avoid lengthy and expensive legal proceedings and move on to a new chapter in his life … the commission concluded that Rich did not respond to e-mails or ask enough questions of subordinates,” Baum’s attorney, Steven Reich, said in a written statement.
The commission said evidence shows Baum, who was Dopp’s boss, was aware of efforts to get information about Bruno’s travel. However, the commission report adds: “Baum received [and ignored] e-mail communications” that showed there was a plot to generate negative publicity about Bruno to Spitzer’s benefit, even though the governor’s aides had already concluded Bruno wasn’t violating state policy on the use of state aircraft.
Dopp and Felton could request a public hearing to contest the findings. If more evidence comes out of those hearings, more charges could be brought, including against Spitzer, the commission said.
The commission, created as part of Spitzer’s early government reforms, found Dopp and Felton used the state police to serve Spitzer’s and their own interests in a way that compromised the agency.
Felton must have “believed, or should have known,” that the documents state police collected on Bruno would be provided to the media, according to the report.
“Such misconduct erodes public confidence in the integrity and independence of the state police,” stated the commission, the majority of which were appointed by Spitzer.
Dopp and the other aides had insisted they were following the legitimate request of a reporter for public information. Dopp has in recent months insisted Spitzer directly ordered the release of the travel data on Bruno, who has since retired.
The panel found a Spitzer e-mail about Bruno in May 2007 that stated: “He is making personal attacks and I am really [going to] go after him at some point.”
However, Spitzer testified that he meant his intention was to “reveal the hypocrisy of what he [Bruno] was saying in his personal attacks against me and my wife.”
Spitzer testified he never saw the travel records provided by Dopp to the reporter.
In his testimony to the commission, Dopp “does not indicate Spitzer ordered the documents’ release, but instead states Spitzer said the documents had to be released because according to Dopp they were public documents.
“According to Dopp, Spitzer and Baum relied on Dopp’s judgment that the documents were public documents subject to disclosure,” according to the 68-page report.
But the commission appears to let the former governor off the hook, at least for now.
“The failure to supervise subordinates, without more, does not violate the Public Officers Law,” the commission stated. “Similarly, the release of information or documents to the media about a political opponent, without knowledge that such information was confidential or improperly compiled or created [here, through the State Police], does not violate the Public Officers Law.”
In 2007, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation of the case found improper conduct by Spitzer aides, but no crime. Months later, Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares, after first finding no crime or even a scheme, re-interviewed Dopp and announced that Dopp appeared to be following Spitzer’s direct orders.