Eliot Spitzer was not charged with violating state law because, unlike four of his top subordinates, he was not involved in the misuse of State Police to discredit the ex-New York governor's keenest political enemy, said the executive director of the Commission on Public Integrity.
Speaking Friday for the first time about the investigation that took more than 10 months to complete, Herbert Teitelbaum also defended commissioners against the "distressing" charge of being biased because of who appointed them and said investigators came to depend on advice from a "working group" of five commission members as their inquiry played out.
Teitelbaum said in an interview that too much emphasis was given by the media to the manner in which purportedly damaging information on Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was released to an Albany newspaper last summer by the Spitzer administration. That was especially true given the obscene tirade Spitzer unleashed when authorizing the release of the materials, according to testimony by his former communications secretary Darren Dopp.
But Teitelbaum said the compilation of the information, not its ultimate release, was what interested the commission.
The release of the materials "may be interesting to readers of newspapers and books, but our focus was who knew what and who participated in the misuse of the State Police, or the reasonable belief of the misuse of the State Police?" Teitelbaum said. "You have to look at the record evidence. You can't make those decisions based on surmise. You can't make it on rumor. ... How would any of us feel if we were sanctioned on the basis of rumor or surmise? It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter if you are the governor or a janitor."
The commission last week charged Dopp and Preston Felton, the former acting superintendent of the State Police, with violations of Public Officers Law that could subject them to civil fines of $10,000 and $20,000 respectively. The two are challenging the charges.
The commission also announced that Richard Baum, Spitzer's one-time secretary, and the governor's liaison with the State Police, William Howard, had acknowledged committing lesser violations of Public Officers Law which carry no fines. They have settled their cases.
Teitelbaum reiterated Friday that the commission could renew its inquiry into Spitzer's activities if new evidence surfaces against him. In a separate interview with The Associated Press, Teitelbaum said Friday the commission might also look into whether Spitzer or someone in his office orchestrated the "obstacles" placed in the path of commission staffers as they sought information.
The commission said the investigation dragged on longer than it should have because Spitzer's office resisted releasing information.
As time went on, critics openly questioned how serious the commission was about investigating Spitzer, who had appointed seven of the 13 members of the commission. The chairman, former Fordham University School of Law Dean John Feerick, was picked by Spitzer to run the commission last year.
Teitelbaum said Friday the commission and its staff had to take the "slings and arrows" and innuendos in silence because state Executive Law requires investigations by the agency to remain confidential until charges are brought. That stage was reached last week.
"When we're attacked, when the commissioners are attacked, we can't say, 'Well, look, we're putting everybody under oath,'" Teitelbaum said. "'We're backing every request for documents with a subpoena. We're going to court to get documents. We're threatening to go to court to get documents as to which privileges were being claimed. We're taking the testimony of every high-ranking public official.'"
Teitelbaum said the investigation was the most thorough one he knows of being conducted by either the Public Integrity Commission or its predecessor agencies, the Ethics and Lobbying commissions.
He bristled at criticism that members are beholden to the officials who appointed them, or to their political parties. The unpaid commission positions are filled at the direction of the governor, legislative leaders, the state comptroller and the state attorney general.
"I find it distressing, in part because the notion that a person in an unpaid position who is appointed by an elected official, the presumption that that volunteer is going to do the bidding of that elected official, I think is by and large not true, it certainly isn't true in this commission," Teitelbaum said. "It creates a misimpression in the public mind that the public believes incorrectly that people who, without compensation, who devote very, very substantial amounts of time to public service, are somehow corrupt, because that's what it would be."
Teitelbaum said he has detected no partisanship in the group.
"If you put bags over their heads and I put you in a room, and all you could hear is their voices, you couldn't tell who appointed whom," he said. "You wouldn't be able to tell who's a Democrat and who's a Republican. They all come to this mission with an extraordinary dedication and an extraordinary will to do the right thing."
He said that with the Spitzer administration probe, he came to rely on the legal advice proffered by a "working group" of five commissioners: Feerick; former state Court of Appeals Judge Howard A. Levine; and attorneys John T. Mitchell, Loretta E. Lynch and Robert J. Giuffra Jr.
Other members of the commission are Daniel R. Alonso, Virginia M. Apuzzo, John M. Brickman, Andrew G. Celli Jr., Richard D. Emery, Daniel J. French, David L. Gruenberg and James P. King. Celli, a Spitzer friend, recused himself in this case.
Teitelbaum said he did not regret leaving a secure partnership at Bryan Cave, despite the tumultuous last year for the commission and state government in Albany.
He acknowledged, however, that he had never "worked in an arena where media played such a role" as with the commission's work on the Spitzer case.
He joked Friday about opening the newspapers and seeing stories about a guy he can't recognize -- Herbert Teitelbaum.
"It's true," Teitelbaum said. "Of late, I say, 'Look at this guy. Got the same name as I do. He's also working for state government.' Wow! He's terrible."