Spitzer is Beleaguered; Bruno’s Chickens Come Home to Roost, Courtesy of Cuomo
As you know, we have been critical of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s behavior for six months.
Not his goals, but the way he has gone about trying to reach them.
Now, he has gotten himself into real trouble.
The clumsy plot against Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, using the State Police for political reasons is Nixonian in nature.
He is now in a situation similar to the one Nixon faced in 1973. He has denied that he was aware of events which, in the normal course of business or politics, he would certainly have known. He has thrown his faithful aide (Darren Dopp) to the wolves, a fate reminiscent of that which befell Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Mitchell 33 years ago.
In general, top aides do not commit unethical or illegal acts without the knowledge and approval of their bosses, unless the crime is embezzlement. People who are professionals in business or politics know that full well. So do prosecutors. The problem here is that the Governor has apparently placed himself in a position where, in order to protect him, the people around him who know the facts will have to commit perjury.
Perjury, lying under oath, is a measure of loyalty usually associated with criminal gangs. How long a sentence will someone risk to protect a higher up? What price must a chief executive pay to assure the silence of others? What would be discovered if public hearings were held on this matter, and people were required to testify under oath? What did the butler, or the chauffeur, know?
Our judgment is that he and his principal aide, Secretary to the Governor Richard Baum, should have told the complete truth rather than pleading ignorance of the plot. They could have expressed their rightful outrage at Sen. Bruno for using the state plane basically to attend political fundraisers, and adding some state business to his schedule to justify the junket. But instead, Spitzer is said to have claimed he did not know what the docile and devoted Darren Dopp was doing. That may prove to have been a serious error.
We should all know by now that, at least in politics, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. A reader has just pointed out to us that there are cases where the cover-up is better than the crime, but that is only where the cover-up is successful, which depends on no one being aware of it. Not the case here. With cover-ups, there need not even be an underlying crime, as in the case of Scooter Libby for lying about an act that was not criminal. The investigation may be held solely for political reasons, or to serve the ambition of the prosecutor. That is not a crime, either; it may result in a promotion.
The spectacle of the former Grand Inquisitor now playing defense is no doubt amusing to many of his enemies and victims. Nevertheless, the beleaguered governor is trying to crack a system of favoritism and privilege which keeps New York State government close to the bottom on ethical standards, accountability, transparency and prudent spending practices.
Just to remind you what underlies this situation, we bring to your attention an article by Ethan Porter in last week’s Daily News, “PURCHASING POWER - Joe Bruno Buys GOP Support With Millions of Our Tax Dollars” describes conditions which are outrageous, in terms of misuse and diversion of state funds for political purposes. Another negative effect of these expenditures is that they make the legislators pawns of the leader, lest their cut of the pie be shrunk. It is the multiple sins of Bruno that make the blunders of Spitzer more painful to reformers who had hoped for change.
Two weeks ago, a lifetime in politics, we wrote here “The Attorney General has no reason to exert exceptional kindness to anyone who is above him on the political food chain.” We did not imagine that our prediction would be borne out so quickly.
Our advice to the Governor is simple: Tell the whole truth immediately, and hope that you will be allowed to make a fresh start. Every day you delay will weaken your ability to hold on to your office. They will not hesitate to prosecute you, the way you saw to it that they went after Comptroller Alan Hevesi. The practice of criminalizing political or economic decisions did not begin with your tenure as Attorney General, but it is now part of the landscape of public affairs. You may become its victim.
To put it even more briefly: Repent, before it is too late.