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Paterson mum as scandal claims top N.Y. cop

New York Gov. David Paterson forged ahead with his work day Wednesday, planning a budget meeting in the midst of a rapidly growing scandal that has now claimed two top law enforcement officials and threatens to take down his administration.
/ Source: The Associated Press

New York Gov. David Paterson forged ahead with his work day Wednesday, planning a budget meeting in the midst of a rapidly growing scandal that has now claimed two top law enforcement officials and threatens to take down his administration.

Just hours after Paterson told reporters the day before that he wouldn't resign because of his intervention in the domestic violence case involving a key aide, State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt abruptly announced he would retire effective Wednesday. Last week, Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise O'Donnell quit after criticizing contact that Paterson, his staff and the state police had with the woman at the center of the domestic assault complaint.

As Paterson prepared for a Wednesday morning session with his Cabinet to discuss the state's $8 billion budget deficit, Lawrence Schwartz, his chief of staff, said the governor is determined to stay on and deal with New York's fiscal woes. He said Paterson planned a full day of meetings with staff and legislative leaders.

Paterson said Tuesday that he'll soon give his side of the scandal that continues to chip away at his administration. Amid support from lawmakers and some calls for him to resign, the governor would say only that he wouldn't step down.

On Halloween in the Bronx, Sherruna Booker told police she was roughed up by Paterson aide David Johnson, her boyfriend at the time, but she decided not to press charges. At issue is whether Paterson or anyone from his staff or security detail influenced her decision.

Paterson has acknowledged that he spoke with Booker, but said she initiated the call. He said he did not try to get her to change her story or tell her not to pursue a charge. The New York Times provided new details Tuesday on Paterson's involvement in the matter, reporting that the governor had personally directed two state employees to contact the woman.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — often mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate by the very critics dogging Paterson — is investigating those contacts. Any criminal case will hinge on whether Paterson, staff members or state bodyguards tried to get Booker to change her story, making charges of witness tampering or obstructing justice possible.

Paul DerOhannesian, a former Albany County prosecutor, said the new revelations don't seal a case against Paterson or his administration.

"We don't know what was said, and that's very important," he said. He said that while it's highly unusual for a victim to be contacted by state police when they have no jurisdiction, or for Paterson and his employees to contact the woman, "the next question is, 'What was said?' We don't know."

New York Gov. David Paterson announces he will withdraw from the state governor's race at his office in New York, February 26, 2010. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid Brendan Mcdermid / X90143

Corbitt told an Albany television station that intense media scrutiny over the scandal was a factor in his planned departure Wednesday.

O'Donnell, Corbitt's boss, resigned a week ago, saying that direct contact by the governor and troopers with the woman was "unacceptable" regardless of their intent. At the time, she said Corbitt had assured her that state police were not involved in the investigation.

Paterson refused to comment on whether he had asked Corbitt to step down.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, considered the most powerful official in Albany, earlier left a lunch meeting with Paterson at the governor's mansion and told reporters: "I don't feel he should resign."

State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs later met in the mansion with Paterson, a longtime friend who gave him the chairman's job. Jacobs wouldn't divulge details of Paterson's version of the scandal.

"I did not get the sense that the governor is considering resignation, that resignation is pending," Jacobs said.

The National Organization for Women called for Paterson's resignation early Tuesday despite his policy record of "excellent" on women's issues.

Some leading Democrats have said he should resign to avoid further damage to the party in the November midterm elections.

National Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine wouldn't answer when asked Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show about whether Paterson should resign but did say he respects Paterson's decision last week to end his campaign for a full term.

Even Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whom Paterson appointed last year, said Tuesday that he would have to resign if allegations that he abused his power are proven true.