N.Y. Gov.: Illegal to Publish Phone Tapes
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N.Y. Gov.: Illegal to Publish Phone Tapes

Associated Press | August 23, 2005

Gov. George Pataki said Tuesday he believed it was illegal for the New York Post to publish transcripts of tape recordings of private conversations involving him, his wife and top aides and advisers.

The governor refused to rule out a civil lawsuit in connection with the tapes.

"All that remains to be seen," he said.

On Monday, Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo said publication of excerpts from the conversations was "unethical and potentially illegal."

But on Tuesday, during a visit to New York Giants training camp, Pataki went further while still refusing comment on the contents of the conversations.

"There's a reason the law makes it illegal to record," he said. "There's a reason the law makes it illegal to publish them."

Pressed on that, Pataki said: "I believe the law also includes publishing. Check with the lawyers on it, but that's what my counsels have advised me."

Pataki aides said federal law makes it illegal to disclose information obtained through a wiretap known to be illegal.

In New York, it is illegal without a court order to tape record telephone conversations unless one of the parties is aware of the taping. The Post has said it has no idea whether the material at issue, which it received anonymously, was taped illegally.

Media lawyer Floyd Abrams said he felt "the Post is on solid legal ground" for a number of reasons, including the fact the Post said it doesn't know whether the conversations were recorded legally or not.

"Where the disclosure is of newsworthy information and it is made by an entity that did not act illegally in obtaining the information, the disclosure is generally protected under the First Amendment," Abrams added.

"It would give some lawyers some more work if Gov. Pataki wanted to press this, but I find it hard to believe he will," said Abrams.

On Monday, after the Post first published excerpts, all featuring Pataki's former chief patronage dispenser, the governor called for a federal investigation.

The conversations range from the routine _ Doherty asking Pataki to speak at a funeral and promising to write some "very personal" remarks for him _ to politically more blunt exchanges about patronage jobs. In one, Doherty complains with bursts of profanity to then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, a Pataki mentor, about administration commissioners not hiring people Doherty had recommended.

Another conversation features the Republican governor's wife, Libby Pataki, using profanity in complaining to Doherty about spending too much time doing minor public events and not getting enough publicity from them.

Doherty, now a lobbyist-consultant, has said he did not tape the conversations and does not know who did.

The Post said the conversations appear to have taken place during Pataki's first term, probably in 1996 and possibly in 1997.

"Even if these tapes were illegally made _ and we don't know yet that they were _ we believe the Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed our right to publish the contents of the tapes. There is a clear public interest for our readers to understand how important patronage jobs in state agencies are doled out in Albany and how the Governor and the First Lady's schedules are decided," Col Allan, editor-in-chief of the Post, said in a statement issued Monday.

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