ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Two top aides to Gov. Eliot Spitzer plotted to discredit Republican rival Joseph Bruno by using the state police to recreate and release to a newspaper records that tracked the Senate majority leader's whereabouts, according to an investigative report released Monday.
Spitzer immediately suspended his longtime top media spokesman, Darren Dopp, and reassigned the other, homeland and public security chief William Howard, following Monday's report from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. The report found Dopp and Howard, with the direct, unprecedented assistance of state Deputy Superintendent Preston Felton, conspired to release politically damaging information about Bruno's use of state aircraft, including trips that included political fundraisers.
No one was accused of violating the law, but the report found policies designed to protect public officials' safety were broken for political gain. Spitzer said he knew nothing of the operation.
"Clearly this was not part of a broader package,'' Spitzer said. "I will not tolerate this behavior ... I apologize to Senator Bruno, as I did earlier today,'' Spitzer told reporters. "I apologize to the people of the state of New York.''
The report is a blow to Spitzer, who was elected in November largely on the strength of his pledge to rid Albany of the corruption and political infighting that led to gridlock and tarnished its reputation nationwide. He won with a record share of the vote and was still enjoying high ratings in public opinion polls when, according to the Cuomo report, the scheme against Bruno was being hatched.
When the scandal erupted earlier this month, Spitzer said he believed Dopp and Howard were simply responding to a state Freedom of Information Law request for records by a newspaper. On Monday, however, the governor said he accepts the version of events spelled out in the Cuomo report, including a conclusion that the records against Bruno were being compiled before any Freedom of Information request was filed and that staff used the ``pretext'' of a media request to make it public.
Howard "caused the acting superintendent of the state police to create documents detailing where the state police had driven Senator Bruno, and report details of Senator Bruno's requests for ground transportation, upcoming schedules, and changes to those schedules,'' the report said. "This conduct deviated from state police standard operating procedures and past practices, and was not required by FOIL.''
The report said the records were created "without considering any potential for security concerns'' for Bruno, the 78-year-old head of the state Republican party who has said he required state police transportation because of death threats in past years made against him.
"The past policy of the state police was to limit FOIL requests for full schedules to protect the security of public officials. The current policy appears to still limit disclosure of the governor and lieutenant governor's full travel itinerary so as to protect their security and privacy,'' the report stated.
One passage in the Cuomo report says that on May 23, Dopp wrote Rich Baum, a senior Spitzer adviser, that "records exist going way back'' about Bruno's use of state aircraft on trips that included political fundraisers. "Also, I think there is a new and different way to proceed re media. Will explain tomorrow.''
Dopp then wrote another e-mail to Baum after a story in the Albany Times Union about a federal grand jury investigating Bruno's investments in thoroughbred horses, the report states. Dopp wrote: "Think travel story would fit nicely in the mix.''
Later that day, Howard wrote an e-mail to Baum: "The impending travel stuff implies more problems -- particularly in the tax area I think. I think timing right for that move.''
The first FOIL request was filed by the Times Union on June 27.
Cuomo concluded: "These e-mails show that persons in the governor's office did not merely produce records under a FOIL request, but were instead engaged in planning and producing media coverage concerning Senator Bruno's travel on state aircraft before any FOIL request was made.''
Spitzer said Baum, secretary to the governor, wasn't part of the effort and he expects to take no action against him.
Dopp was part of Spitzer's senior team during Spitzer's eight years as attorney general where he forced reforms of unethical behavior on Wall Street. Spitzer had often subpoenaed internal e-mails to show conspiracies in companies.
"Wowee,'' said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and a former New York political reporter. "You have to give Spitzer marks for being smart on this (by disciplining Dopp and Howard) -- to get it done with ... not too many politicians have sense enough to do that, Richard Nixon being the prime example.''
He said, however, it's hard to predict whether the public will accept Spitzer's statement that the operation went no higher than Dopp and Howard. One thing is clear: Cuomo, the ambitious one-time candidate for governor, scored big.
"Boy, oh boy, Andrew Cuomo, one-time partisan, suddenly turns up as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in Albany,'' Carroll said. ``Andrew Cuomo looks very good on this one.''
Bruno had accused Spitzer's office of political espionage using state police to track his movements on trips to New York on the days of Republican fundraisers.
"We will thoroughly review the report's disturbing conclusions regarding the activities of the governor's staff and the acting superintendent of the state police before commenting any further,'' Bruno said.
The report found Bruno's use of the state aircraft was appropriate under a state policy that ``is overly permissive and porous and allows for an abuse of taxpayer funds.''
"We find that Senator Bruno used state aircraft for trips during which he conducted both legislative business as well as political or personal business,'' the report stated. "We further find that such mixed usage is permissible under existing New York state policy.''
The decision is shared by Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares and the state Inspector General's Office, which also reviewed Bruno's use of state aircraft.
Spitzer took no action against Preston Felton, the acting state police superintendent who has been in line to head the state police. The report portrayed Felton as a cooperative assistant, carrying out the pl