There’s good news and bad news for Governor Paterson in the just-released report by former chief state Judge Judith Kaye on the fracas stemming from the Halloween night domestic violence incident involving the gov’s former top aide.
The good news is that Kaye clears Paterson of any criminal liability when the gov made several calls to ex-aide David Johnson’s girlfriend/victim Sherri Booker. “These were errors of judgment,” writes Kaye.
The bad news is that Kaye says that “the evidence warrants consideration of possible charges” against Johnson, the aide the governor most relied upon before he was canned this spring.
Kaye said she has referred her findings to Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson who has already opened a probe of the incident at Booker’s request.
Paterson can be expected to rightfully tout his clearance on possible criminal charges. But the 57-page report is also studded with references to the governor’s puzzling behavior, faulty memory, and repeated efforts to hush up the growing scandal once he knew the New York Times was chasing it.
For instance, there’s the text of a voice mail message that Paterson left on Booker’s cell phone which doesn’t exactly make the gov look like a stand up guy:
“Sherri, this is David. You should see the way they wrote this story. They’re trying to make it look like I pressured you into dropping this court case. Please help me. Your lawyer – his statement makes it sound the same way. Um, I mean – I was trying to find out about the rumors involving myself. You placed the call to me around ten minutes to four on Sunday, February the 7th – it was the day of the Superbowl. And, um, in the conversation, we just talked about the things that – that – you didn’t say anything about me, and I didn’t say about you. Then we went on to talk about other stuff, but – I hope, uh – you remember that I was not trying to make you do anything, and – I hope your lawyer will do something to help me here, because this, uh, doesn’t look good for me, and I wasn’t in this. And this is exactly what they’re after. …”
Paterson was so frantic to reach Booker that, after leaving that message, he re-dialled her number. This time, Booker picked up and scolded Paterson for trying to “play with words” since the only reason she’d called him was because a mutual friend had told her he wanted to speak with her.
The governor also had remarkably different recollections than his top aides. He told investigators that he “had no memory” of an important conversation testified to by ex-press secretary Peter Kauffmann, in which Kauffmann warned him not to call Booker regarding the Times story. After Kauffmann’s caution, the governor simply had another press aide, Marissa Shorenstein, call Booker to encourage her to make a statement saying that the “break up was not acrimonious.”
The governor insisted that he was just trying to offer what he insisted was a “neutral” statement to help get him out of a jam with the Times. Paterson told Kaye that he:
“gave her (Shorenstein) sort of neutral language like the relationship [between Booker and Johnson] ended in an unfriendly way, but there’s no current acrimony, or something that’s really designed to promote the idea that our relationship is our business, and we don’t want to get into the New York Times massacre of David Paterson. So I was clearly looking our for myself, but I was trying to find a way that perhaps would end their continued harassment of Sherri.”
Booker told probers that she rejected the statement because it was “false.”
Asked if he thought the statement was accurate or inaccurate, Paterson adopted the neither-of-the-above style that has made him such an outrageously frustrating chief executive for the past two years.
“I would say it was neither. I would just say it was a statement designed to get the media off of my back about Sherri Booker and David Johnson… I know they don’t like each other. And I know that they have no further use for each other. But that was why I was running the statement by them. It was based on my perception of where they would be publicly. Privately, they might hate each other’s guts. But publicly, hey, we’re moving on. That’s what the statement was designed to say.”
Overall though, it’s still a good day for the governor. He’s in Albany today, putting the whip to the legislature. And all he’s got to worry about now is the next investigation – those damn Yankee tickets.