July 31, 2007

Four Inquiries Face Spitzer in Bruno Case

ALBANY, July 30 — Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s administration is facing the possibility of as many as four investigations following a scathing report issued a week ago by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, a reality that could tie up many of the governor’s top staff members in legal wrangling for months to come.

On Monday, the Republican-led Senate called for Mr. Cuomo to be designated a special prosecutor with broader powers to investigate the governor and his staff for their efforts to discredit Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate leader. The governor quickly rejected the request, but the Senate’s move and the governor’s swift reaction appeared to embolden Senate Republicans to begin an investigation of their own.

In addition, the State Ethics Commission is conducting a preliminary review in advance of a potential investigation. Republicans have also called for the State Commission of Investigation, an independent body created in the 1950s and initially charged with investigating organized crime, to review the conduct of the governor and his staff. A spokesman for the commission declined to comment.

The office of P. David Soares, the Albany County district attorney, also said on Monday that it was likely to comment further on the case later this week. Mr. Soares, a Democrat, has indicated that he was not reviewing the matter, even though Senate Republicans have asked that he do so.

Calls for new inquiries have accumulated in the week since Mr. Cuomo’s office issued its report finding that the governor’s staff had misused the State Police to collect information about Mr. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, in an effort to plant a negative article about him in the news media. The report concluded that no laws had been broken, and Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, has maintained that he was misled by his staff and knew nothing about the effort to discredit Mr. Bruno, the state’s top Republican.

The state inspector general, Kristine Hamann, concurred in the attorney general’s findings; she is one of the governor’s appointees. The governor indefinitely suspended his communications director, Darren Dopp, and reassigned another aide after the report was released.

Senate Republicans have been considering how to proceed with a further inquiry. Though top Republicans say they are confident they would win any legal battle over their right to subpoena the governor, his aides and their correspondence, they are concerned that it is likely to take months to resolve such disputes, let alone uncover new information. They are also concerned that a full investigation by the Senate would so poison the atmosphere in Albany that little progress could be made on other issues.

On Monday afternoon, Senator George H. Winner Jr., the chairman of the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, called on the governor to designate Mr. Cuomo a special prosecutor, giving him the power to subpoena witnesses and compel testimony. During the attorney general’s investigation leading to his report, two of the governor’s top staff members declined to be interviewed at the direction of the governor’s counsel, one factor that has led for calls for a fuller review.

The governor has apologized publicly and said it is time to move on.

Several Republican senators interviewed Monday cited polls published during the last few days showing strong support for further inquiry into the Spitzer administration and widespread doubt that the governor himself was unaware of his aides’ actions. Though the polls also show generally high approval of Mr. Spitzer, Republicans seemed confident that they could move fairly aggressively with public sentiment behind them.

Senator Thomas W. Libous, a Binghamton Republican who is a member of the investigations committee, said, “The public wants an investigation.”

Even as Mr. Winner made his announcement, however, leading Senate Democrats
questioned whether the investigations committee could handle a Spitzer
inquiry fairly.

Thomas K. Duane, a Manhattan senator and the committee’s ranking Democrat,
said Mr. Winner had yet to contact him or respond to a letter he sent last
week outlining conditions that would need to be met for any committee
investigation to proceed fairly.

“I think that at the very least, there’s a very problematic appearance if a
committee, the majority of whose members are appointed by Senator Bruno,
would be in charge of an investigation of something when Senator Bruno was
the offended party,” Mr. Duane said.

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