In recusing himself after two weeks of investigating Gov. David Paterson, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said there was no "technical conflict" but described the probe thus far as preliminary and bowed to pressure that included sinking approval ratings for the man widely expected to run for governor.
Cuomo named Judith Kaye on Thursday as the independent counsel to lead the investigation into whether Paterson illegally took World Series tickets or had improper contact with a woman who accused a governor's aide of domestic violence. She will work with the Cuomo's Public Integrity Unit.
Cuomo said he was being cautious in his approach because of the heated politics surrounding the probe.
A Marist College poll Tuesday showed Cuomo's approval rating fell 13 points in the two weeks since he began investigating Paterson, who ended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor days after the investigation began. Several polls showed New Yorkers preferred an independent prosecutor for the case, not Cuomo.
The Marist poll showed Cuomo was particularly hurt among black voters and New York City residents — Paterson's base. Cuomo had at one time been worried about the black vote after mounting a primary challenge against H. Carl McCall in 2002, the comptroller many Democrats thought would be New York's first black governor. Cuomo dropped out, and McCall lost to Republican Gov. George Pataki.
"This is a legal determination as to what is the best way to conduct an investigation," Cuomo said. "... I want to make sure this is an investigation that is as free from political interference as is possible."
Cuomo told reporters that his two weeks in charge of the investigation were simply to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation. During that time, he said, dozens of witnesses were interviewed and thousands of pages of records were reviewed.
"It should not have required two weeks and a drop in the polls for Andrew Cuomo to recognize what he should have instinctively known from the beginning," said Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio.
Paterson's private attorney, Theodore V. Wells Jr., said he respects Cuomo's decision.
"We will cooperate with Judge Kaye and the (attorney general's office) and look forward to a prompt and favorable conclusion to both investigations," said the firm's spokeswoman, Madelaine Miller.
Kaye said that the investigation is "a serious and important matter."
Cuomo's father — Gov. Mario Cuomo — appointed Kaye to the state's top court in 1983 and made her chief judge in 1993, the first woman in that position. On the bench, Kaye wrote groundbreaking decisions on adoption rights for gay couples and the death penalty. She has no prosecutorial or investigative background.
Cuomo was investigating Paterson's role in the case in which a woman accused a trusted Paterson adviser of roughing her up.
Last October, Sherruna Booker accused Paterson confidante David Johnson of choking her, tearing off her Halloween costume and shoving her against a mirror. She filed a domestic violence complaint but never filed criminal charges.
Paterson has acknowledged that he, two staff members and a member of his state police security detail all talked to Booker before a scheduled family court hearing. He has said Booker called him and he only offered support but did not try to get her to drop her complaint or change her story.
Booker did not show up for the hearing, and the domestic violence complaint was dropped.
Last week, the state Public Integrity Commission accused Paterson of violating state ethics laws when he sought and obtained free Yankees tickets for the 2009 World Series and then may have lied about his intention to pay for them.
Associated Press writers Michael Virtanen and Valerie Bauman contributed to this report.
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