Are There Reporters Caught Up in Gov. David Paterson's Scandals?
According to the New York Attorney General's office, there are three ongoing investigations into New York Gov. David Paterson that may be interested in looking at reporters' e-mails with Paterson's press aides. Why?
We just got off the phone with two attorneys in the New York Attorney General's office. They were explaining why they would be late in delivering the long-awaited results of a Freedom of Information Law request we filed back in February. The reason? Investigators for the Attorney General's Public Integrity Bureau, the Albany County District Attorney, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York might want to see them first.
We were looking for e-mails between Peter Kaufmann and Marissa Shorenstein, two of Paterson's former press aides, and a variety of reporters—for the New York Times, New York Daily News, and basically every major magazine, newspaper, or television operation that covered Paterson. It's a trick we'd pulled before with some effect, and we were curious how Paterson's press team was handling the shitstorm of rumors that descended on Albany at the beginning of the year.
Anyway, our request was initially denied for ludicrous reasons, as was our appeal. (The governor's office claimed that that e-mails between reporters and government flacks are protected by New York's shield law, which they are most emphatically not. What's worse, the Associated Press—which makes a living off of using Freedom of Information laws to gain access to government employees' communications—hired a lawyer to lobby the state against releasing its reporters' e-mails.) In August, Columbia Journalism Review, which had filed a similar request in March, a month after we did—and had likewise been denied—initiated a court proceeding to compel the governor's office to release the e-mails. Your blogger filed a motion to intervene in that case as an interested party in October. Rather than defend the Paterson Administration's preposterous argument, the Attorney General's office responded to the suit by promising to hand over the e-mails. They were supposed to put them in the mail today.
But it was not to be. After nearly a year of wrangling, the state of New York has come up with yet another reason not to comply with its own sunshine laws: The e-mails may be relevant to ongoing investigations, which would render them exempt from New York's FOIL. It's no secret that Paterson is the target of more than his fair share of law enforcement probes: The Albany County District Attorney is investigating him for perjury, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is investigating the crooked deal to deliver the Aqueduct gambling concession to favored political donors. The state of New York's Public Integrity Bureau also investigated the Aqueduct transaction, producing a scathing report all but accusing him of running a criminal enterprise.
But why would any of those investigations want communications with reporters? Who knows. The attorney general's office says they're only delaying handing over the e-mails to give investigators a chance to make sure they don't want to keep them secret. The odd thing is that the state has had since February to conduct that due diligence, but somehow decided on the day they'd promised to hand them over that the e-mails could interfere with an investigation. The even odder—indeed, laughable—thing is that the state initially tried to apply the shield law, which is supposed to protect journalists' e-mails from law enforcement's prying eyes, to the FOIL as a way to keep the messages secret. And now they're saying law enforcement needs to use the e-mails in an investigation. Whatever works.
There's clearly reason to suspect that Shorenstein and Kaufmann's e-mails might be relevant to those investigations. And perhaps that some reporters may be caught up too, somehow. Hopefully we'll find out soon.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to confirm or deny the existence of any investigations; the governor's office, the Albany County District Attorney's office, and the Public Integrity Bureau all did not respond to requests for comment.