ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, leading a high-profile investigation into the State Police when he was attorney general, angered top officials at the agency by discouraging them from obtaining legal representation during the inquiry, according to interviews with former officials and claims made in documents recently obtained by The New York Times.
Pedro Perez, who was briefly acting superintendent of the State Police in 2008, when the inquiry was undertaken, said Mr. Cuomo told him at the time that seeking legal counsel would suggest that the officials were guilty of some wrongdoing.
“Essentially what he told me was that as law enforcement officials we understood that if someone comes with an attorney, there is a presumption that they have something to hide,” Mr. Perez said in an interview. “And I said that is not, in fact, the case. In our system, having an attorney present does not create a sense of guilt. There’s a right to an attorney. I was taken aback.”
The reputed conversation became well known among the State Police officials; The Times learned of it after obtaining the sworn testimony of Glenn Valle, the former State Police counsel, taken in late 2008 as part of the State Police investigation.
Mr. Cuomo’s office strongly denied the claim.
“No one in the attorney general’s office ever discouraged troopers from being represented by counsel, in conversations with Perez or otherwise,” Richard Bamberger, the governor’s communication director, said in a statement on Monday. “The suggestion that the attorney general’s office resisted representation by counsel is belied by the fact that virtually all members of the State Police had union or private counsel during their testimony.”
The dispute emerged as Mr. Cuomo faced scrutiny for his handling of a separate State Police inquiry in 2007. His aides recently shielded documents related to that investigation from public view in the state archives, after reporters sought to examine them.
It also brought attention to what is certain to be a closely scrutinized chapter in Mr. Cuomo’s biography as his national reputation grows: his tenure as attorney general, when he took on politically sensitive inquiries that at times involved his political rivals.
The issue came to light in the last week when reporters for The Times and The Times Union of Albany obtained copies of sworn testimony by Mr. Valle, who served for two decades as the chief counsel of the State Police.
Mr. Valle testified that Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, had discouraged agency officials from bringing lawyers to the investigation, and then repeated the claim in a memorandum to the office of David A. Paterson, who was then the governor. Neither Ms. McCarthy nor Governor Paterson’s office followed up on the claim.
Details of the testimony, which was given on Dec. 30, 2008, also raise questions about the investigation itself, which was meant to examine political interference at the State Police, and whether Mr. Cuomo’s office produced a thorough report of its findings.
Seemingly relevant information appears to have been left out of Mr. Cuomo’s final report — specifically details of a reputed effort by the Paterson administration to remove at least 10 white troopers who were members of the governor’s security detail and replace them with black or Latino troopers, leading to an extraordinary standoff with State Police officials, who viewed doing that as illegal and inviting a discrimination lawsuit.
In addition, when Mr. Valle was interviewed by investigators, he was never asked about the more than five years he spent as chief police counsel during the administration of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father.
Mr. Valle, known as an aggressive defender of the often-embattled State Police force, has been one of the few public officials who is regularly critical of Mr. Cuomo.
“In 33 years of practice as a prosecutor, assistant attorney general and chief counsel to the State Police, I never heard of a prosecutor threatening that if witnesses retained a lawyer, it would be held against them,” Mr. Valle said.
The TImes says the matter amounts to, at worst, a breach of legal ethics, and Cuomo likely wouldn't face any penalty for threatening witnesses to leave legal counsel at home.
Nonetheless it is a glimpse into who this man is, how he operated as attorney general, and why he may be hiding his attorney general papers.
Cuomo likes to operate in the dark, away from scrutiny.
There is a reason for that.