It's a delicate position: The investigation that could bring down New York Gov. David Paterson is being led by the man widely considered to be the favorite to replace him.
Paterson has asked New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to conduct a probe into whether he, his staff and his state police security detail illegally contacted a woman who accused one of Paterson's most trusted aides in a domestic violence incident.
Cuomo is now in precarious situation: He must run a vigorous investigation without appearing to be picking over the carcass of a political foe who just pulled out of the race amid scandal.
With the widespread anticipation that Cuomo will run for governor, he should have considered the appearance of misconduct when
he accepted the investigation, said Pery Krinsky, a New York City-based attorney who lectures on legal ethics.
"At that moment, there was a clear bright yellow line that says it would be advantageous to the attorney general if his investigation concludes that Governor Paterson engaged in some form of misconduct," Krinsky said. "There's no question, no doubt, that that would be an advantageous result for the attorney general."
The investigation gives Cuomo an opportunity to meet his campaign promise of cleaning up Albany. But it could be tricky since his findings will have to be unimpeachable.
That's a rare hurdle for Cuomo, who has been untouchable as he refused to say whether he will run for governor while collecting gubernatorial-sized campaign contributions. He's kept his distance from any campaign mud-slinging, which has been criticized in the media by those who feel Cuomo's playing it too safe by not announcing his run yet.
Paterson, who abandoned his campaign for a full term a week ago, said Friday that he expects to clear his name in the scandal over the aide as well as one over World Series tickets, while complaining that news reports with "unsourced information, rumors and innuendo" were turning the public against him, an assertion he reiterated later Friday.
"Newspapers are looking for stories, investigators are looking for facts," he told reporters at an event at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. "Nobody knows what the future holds, but I have no other plans other than to finish my term."
Andrew Cuomo, like David Paterson, followed in his father's footsteps into politics--Mario Cuomo served three terms as Governor of New York and Basil Paterson served as a State Senator. He has been New York's Attorney Governor since 2006, but in 2002 he ran a short-lived campaign for Governor that ended over remarks he made about then-Governor George Pataki. Cuomo said the Governor wasn't a leader, and rode on the coat of the "real leader", former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, during the September 11th attacks.
In a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday, 46 percent of New Yorkers said Paterson should finish his term, down from 61 percent earlier in the week. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
In any investigation, the attorney general can recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor with the governor's approval when they believe there is a conflict of interest. Spokesmen for Paterson and Cuomo refused to comment on whether there's a conflict in this investigation. Paterson said this week that he has full confidence in Cuomo's ability to investigate the case.