New York, NY —
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has appointed former Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye as an independent counsel to oversee two criminal investigations into the Paterson Administration. One concerns allegations that Governor Paterson participated in a cover up of a domestic violence incident concerning a top aid. The other stems from an ethics panel report that said Paterson solicited free tickets to a Yankees World Series game then lied about it when questioned by the ethics commission.
Cuomo, who is himself likely to run for governor, says he wants to avoid any possible appearance of political conflict.
"I understand the political environment, and I understand the ferocity of politics in New York," said Cuomo. "It is incredibly important to all of us that the public have 100% confidence."
Recent polls showed the popular Attorney General's approval rating down since he began the two probes, but Cuomo says polls were not a factor in his decision to hand over the investigations to Judge Kaye.
The Attorney General says he has already interviewed dozens of witnesses, though not Governor Paterson or his former aid David Johnson, and has poured through hundreds of documents. He says the preliminary probes have found both potential criminal cases have merit.
"We believe a thorough investigation is warranted on both matters," said Cuomo. "Therefore, we are referring both."
The Attorney General says it's become evident that the investigations will go on for some time. Cuomo will need to announce for his run for governor before the state party convention in May, and on-going investigations into the sitting governor might interfere with that timetable. The AG denies that was a factor in his decision and says he wants more time available for Paterson, who requested the probe in the domestic violence matter, to "make his case".
Cuomo continues to be extremely circumspect about his possible run for governor. He says he's concentrating on his job as Attorney General for the moment.
"I have cases on my desk as we speak," said Cuomo. "I'm focusing on resolving those cases, and then at the appropriate time I will have a statement as to my political plans for the rest of the year."
Paterson is not seeking election to a four year term, he dropped out of the race earlier this month.
Cuomo says Judge Kaye will have "broad, sweeping powers", at her disposal in the investigations, including subpoena powers, and the right to present evidence to a grand jury, if she determines that is necessary. She will also be able to issue a report detailing her findings.
The Attorney General denies that he's relieved to be out of glare of the investigations, and he says of the current turmoil surrounding Governor Paterson "this is an unfortunate situation and these are unfortunate days".