Thursday, September 28, 2006

Former NY challenger to Clinton in federal probe

Former NY challenger to Clinton in federal probe
By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's Republican candidate for attorney general, who last year gave up a failing bid against U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, is under federal investigation for considering secretly recording her husband to learn if he was having an affair, officials said on Wednesday.

Jeanine Pirro, a former district attorney whose efforts at higher public office have been plagued by personal scandal and public gaffes, revealed the probe at a news conference and insisted she broke no laws by discussing the idea with a security consultant.

"Prying into the personal lives of married couples is not the business of federal prosecutors," a visibly angry Pirro said. "This is personal and highly improper ... I have no respect for this investigation."

She claimed it was a political witchhunt and smear campaign, based on "a partisan political agenda" that was "using taxpayer money and public resources to pursue a baseless investigation ... to affect the outcome of an election."

Pirro said she would not pull out of her race against Democrat Andrew Cuomo, the former U.S. Secretary of Housing and son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, for attorney general. He holds a wide lead in polls.

Federal prosecutors confirmed the investigation.

"This office is, as Jeanine Pirro said today, investigating allegations recently brought to our attention," said Michael Garcia, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement, citing federal law that prohibits the interception, or endeavoring to intercept, any wire, oral or electronic communication.

"Because the investigation is ongoing, we will not comment as to its substance, except to say that we do not take politics into account in deciding either the subject matter or timing of our investigations," Garcia said.


Sources told local media that authorities overheard Pirro last year discussing the possibility of recording her husband with former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Kerik, who was working as a security consultant, had been nominated to head U.S. Homeland Security but withdrew amid ethics questions. He later pleaded guilty to accepting gifts while serving as a city official.

Pirro's husband Albert has caused his wife a number of political headaches. He has fathered an out-of-wedlock child and served 11 months in federal prison for tax fraud.

She said she suspected last year he was having an affair.

"In the midst of matrimonial discord I was angry and had him followed to see if what I suspected was true," Pirro said. "Although I spoke about taping him, there was no taping by me or anyone.... I didn't do anything here other than vent.

"This is a waste of taxpayer's money trying to affect the outcome of a statewide election ... of something that happened a year ago," she said.

The former district attorney of Westchester County, Pirro abandoned her race against Clinton when polls showed her badly trailing the Democratic former first lady.

That campaign got off to a bumpy start when Pirro fumbled and misplaced a page of her announcement speech. She raised less than $400,000 when Clinton had nearly $14 million in campaign funds.