The Truth Behind Troopergate

A capital melodrama starring Eliot Spitzer, Joe Bruno and Andrew Cuomo

Young Andrew also earned his spurs in the 1980s as a source for negative news stories. He was heard bragging—by none other than Bill Stern, Mario Cuomo's campaign-finance chair and economic-development czar—about "the contract hits" on opponents that he planted with enthralled reporters. "I heard him talk about it," says Stern, who worked in the 1982 campaign headquarters and in state government with Andrew. "The idea is to embarrass a person. He used it as a weapon against political enemies—or it might be used against your friends who were out of line. 'Contract hit' was a regular part of his lingo. He believed others did it, and that he was very good at it." (Cuomo's spokesman said that he'd never heard of the term, though Stern has been talking to the Voiceabout examples of Cuomo "hits" since 1984.)


With that kind of a track record, Cuomo might have thought twice about plunging into this thicket, especially since he'd been receiving unprecedented praise in the New York media for an extraordinary student-loan inquiry and other high- profile investigations. Instead, he jumped into the probe soon after the Times Union story appeared, nudged privately by Spitzer and asked formally by Bruno. Not only did he rush to launch the probe, but he finished it in only 20 days, with eight or nine investigators working around the clock. No one can offer a convincing reason for this extraordinary rapidity, other than to cite the office's claim that "faster was better."

In the wake of the report, the Post and others loudly complained that Cuomo hadn't interviewed Dopp and another top Spitzer aide involved in the Bruno travel review. Cuomo fed the conspiracy hysteria by saying that they'd refused to cooperate. The truth is that Cuomo's office didn't even ask to interview them until the business day before it released the report. When Spitzer's counsel said that the two preferred to submit brief sworn statements, Cuomo didn't insist or even go public about their reticence: He just rushed to release the report—flush with scathing criticism of the Spitzer team—on a Monday morning, the optimum timing if you're trying to jump-start the news cycle. Subsequent events suggest that had Cuomo been willing to wait, Dopp and company would have appeared to answer questions. When Dopp's attorney refused in early September to turn over some documents sought by another group of investigators still looking into this mess—from the state's public-integrity commission—a one-day deluge of stories and outraged editorials changed his mind, and he quickly gave the commission everything it wanted.

Details

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With special research assistance by Adrienne Gaffney and Tom Wiedeman

Additional research by Benjamin Bright, Benjamin Greenberg, Jan Ransom, Samuel Rubenfeld, Danielle Schiffman, and Ethan Strauss

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In any case, the result of Cuomo's rush to glory was a botched job.

He was supposed to examine both Bruno's possible aircraft abuse and Spitzer's alleged misuse of the state police, but his report doesn't mention the Bruno flights until page 44, and it spends almost as much space suggesting how to reform aircraft regulations—written, by the way, by his own father—as it does examining the senator's trips. While virtually everyone associated with the Spitzer administration was put under oath, including eight employees of the state police, only one of at least 18 people interviewed about Bruno was asked to give sworn testimony. Most of the Spitzer witnesses are named in the report, while none of the people interviewed about Bruno are identified. Indeed, Cuomo's office and Bruno still refuse to name the scheduler, the only witness from Bruno's office to take the oath.

For all the hoopla that resulted over Dopp not being questioned, no one has asked why top Bruno aides like Ed Lurie were never interviewed (Lurie is so political that he runs Bruno's senate campaign committee and joined him for at least one flight). And as outraged as the Post has been about the failure of Spitzer's staff to turn over their private e-mails to Cuomo (they did turn them over to Soares), no one's even noticed that the attorney general never asked Bruno or his aides for any e-mails. If, as Stan Lundine's experience suggests, last-minute state business meetings were set up to cover the senator's long-planned junkets to Sheraton fundraisers, and if Bruno's aides discussed that in e-mails, Cuomo apparently didn't want to know.

In fact, though Cuomo's report indicates that he knew when the meetings were arranged, it never divulges the timing, making it impossible for reporters and the public to figure out if those meetings were shams. Instead, Cuomo simply asserts that there was a legitimate state purpose for every one of the 10 trips Bruno took on state aircraft in the first six months of 2007. Just as Bruno has refused to reveal any of the details about these meetings, Cuomo's report respects the senate leader's preference for secrecy, even as his report reveals every exchange that occurred on the Spitzer side. John McArdle, Bruno's spokesman, told the Voice that Cuomo's lack of specificity about the meetings was "perfectly understandable," adding that there was "no need to make legislative meetings public"—an unsurprising Bruno rejection of transparency that Cuomo apparently shares.

The rationale given by the attorney general's office for its half-hearted probe of the Bruno trips is that the regulations on "mixed" state and personal business flights were so "permissive" that it was almost impossible to violate them, so why bother looking too hard? Cuomo's investigators, however, failed to examine any of the overnight flights that Bruno took—at least two of which apparently required the state police to send a second helicopter down to the city the next day to pick him up and return him to Albany. Colonel Rodenhauser explained that the state aircraft routinely spends the night in an Albany hangar, meaning that two$6,000 round trips almost certainly occurred each time Bruno attended those evening Republican fundraisers on May 3 and May 17 and flew back to Albany the next morning. Since Bruno's last business meeting was at 5 p.m. on May 17, and he had no meetings of any kind scheduled downstate on May 18, the sole reason for the second round trip was political-—a fact that neither Cuomo's nor Bruno's spokesmen contest. This appears to directly violate even the "porous guidelines" promulgated by Mario Cuomo and ratified later by an unofficial state ethics opinion.


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