Paterson Directed Staffers to Contact Abused Woman: Report

Gillibrand, Perkins: If allegations true, he should step down

By MICHAEL GORMLEY and Melissa Russo
|  Thursday, Mar 4, 2010  |  Updated 2:33 PM EDT
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An exclusive look inside the the woman at the center of Governor Paterson's scandal

An exclusive look inside the the woman at the center of Governor Paterson's scandal

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Gov. David Paterson personally directed two state employees to contact the woman who told police she was assaulted by her then-boyfriend, a top aide to Paterson, but later failed to press charges, The New York Times reported late Monday.

A Paterson administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed that the two employees were directed by Paterson to contact the woman, but denied that the state employees sought to persuade the woman to drop her charge or change her story.

The administration official said one of the workers, press officer Marissa Shorenstein, was directed by Paterson directly to contact the woman, Sherruna Booker, but only to seek Booker's public statement. The official who spoke wasn't authorized to speak for Paterson.

Paterson said he did nothing wrong.

Based on the sequence of events outlined in the Times story, Paterson could face criminal charges, depending on what investigators find, according to Politico. The governor's actions could potentially violate laws against witness tampering and obstruction of justice, but it all depends on intent.

"If you try and obstruct a criminal investigation there is potential criminal liability depending on what you did and why you did it," Benjamin Brafman, a leading criminal defense lawyer, told Politico. "The key question is whether or not you attempt to intimidate a witness in an unlawful manner, whether or not you were acting under a guise of official authority. It’s really very fact-specific."

Paterson's office didn't respond to a Politico inquiry into potential charges and whether the governor had retained a criminal defense attorney.

In a public appearance Monday in Manhattan, Paterson declined to comment while the investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo continues into whether the governor and his state police security detail illegally contacted Booker on behalf of the ex-boyfriend she accused, Paterson aide David Johnson. Paterson also said he won't resign, despite some Democrats calling for him to quit.

"There is an hysteria that I've been the victim of over the past couple of months," he said at a breakfast meeting speech. He then joked that, according to past unsubstantiated rumors, "I've been resigning about five times before this weekend."

The other employee directed to contact Booker was Deneane Brown, a friend of Booker and Paterson who works in the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal. The Times, citing unnamed officials, stated she reached out to Booker to arrange a phone call with Paterson. The administration official wouldn't comment on Brown's role.

After that Feb. 8 call, Booker failed to appear in court against Johnson and the domestic violence case that was building against him was dropped.

The administration official told the AP that Shorenstein's role was "very limited."

On Monday, the Democratic governor said he still has the authority to govern and that's what he'll do.

"I already have the authority," Paterson told a panel at the New York Observer Breakfast Series event in Manhattan. "I'm the governor. That's why you invited me."

One of the governor's longtime friends, Democratic Sen. Bill Perkins, said in an interview Monday that if Cuomo's investigation finds Paterson engaged in illegal or improper behavior that could force his resignation, the governor should consider resigning now.

"My position is, normally, let the investigation run its course," said Perkins, who represents Paterson's old Harlem district. "Unfortunately, these are not normal times and clearly the state is in the midst of a fiscal crisis — even worse, a crisis of confidence — and I believe it's putting our Democrats in jeopardy."

Perkins said the governor knows what he did or didn't do, and should act on that now. He said he won't rule out asking the governor to resign after seeing Cuomo's findings.

"The governor knows ... who he talked to, who gave orders to the state police that might have contacted the woman who was a victim," he said. "If this investigation turns out the way many suspect, the obviously his resignation is inevitable ... maybe it's in the best interests of the state to cut bait now."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed by Paterson in January, echoed those sentiments. She called the allegations against Paterson "very, very serious" and told NBCNewYork, if they are true "I don't think the Governor can govern -- he would have to step down."

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that the officers who responded to the domestic violence report on Halloween involving Johnson spoke to Cuomo's office Monday. Kelly said it was part of the investigation into what role Paterson and his state police detail had in contacting the woman who made the report, but who ultimately didn't pursue charges.

Kelly said police had been to Booker's Bronx home three times: once on Halloween, once to check in after the incident but she wasn't home, and a third time where she told officers that Johnson had been served with a restraining order.

Calls to Johnson's attorney and Booker's attorney were not returned. Kelly said he couldn't comment on the active case.

On Friday, Paterson said he was ending his campaign for a full term because the scandal was too much of a distraction from his mission to right the state's finances in a crisis.

Other top Democrats are starting to question whether Paterson will be able to serve out his term.

"My greatest fear is the next shoe will drop, and the situation further deteriorates both in terms of the governor's future and the direction of the Legislature in getting this budget passed," said Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari, majority leader of the Assembly.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a fellow Democrat, said later that he doesn't think "anyone knows" whether Paterson can be a viable governor.

Paterson was lieutenant governor when he succeeded Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in a prostitution scandal. He has less than a year left in his term.

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