ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., is coming under growing pressure to step down from office, from both inside and outside of the Democratic Party, in the wake of a widening scandal that forced him to withdraw from his bid for a full term as governor last week. On ABC’s “Top Line” today, the leading GOP candidate who’s hoping to replace Paterson, Rick Lazio, told us that Paterson needs to “quickly” provide full answers about his role in a domestic violence case involving a former top aide — or that he should leave office now. “I don’t know if these allegations can be proven and will be proven. But if they are established and if they are proven, I think David Paterson is unable to continue to govern this state, and he needs to step down,” Lazio, a former House member from Long Island, told us. Lazio added: “I think he needs to make that decision himself. But if he can’t step forward very soon and clarify what his role was — and whether or not in fact he asked people to tell this woman who’s involved in this story that she should not go forward and not accurately describe what happened, or dissuade her from bringing charges — I think that would be bordering on criminal, maybe actually criminal obstruction of justice. And it would be time for David Paterson to step down. So he needs to step forward quickly and clarify this or he needs to step down.” Lazio also called on Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y. — who is likely to run for governor himself — to appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate the allegations. Lazio said Cuomo “or his agents” may have been behind stories “discrediting Paterson,” and that the investigation needs to be conducted by someone without political ambitions that may present conflicts. “It seems to me absurd, honestly, that Andrew Cuomo, as a political aspirant to the governor’s mansion not appoint somebody who is beyond reproach and independent and unbiased on this to conduct this investigation,” Lazio said. “I think this has got to be done by somebody other than Andrew Cuomo. The points I raise is, if he was behind, or if his agents were behind, pushing these stories around that were discrediting Paterson for the last few weeks, and particularly these last couple weeks, then it seems to me that he’s disqualified from actually being the kind of investigator that both Paterson and the state needs. We’ve got to put political ambition aside and we’ve got serve the people of New York. New York has been through such a tough time as I have just described before, with the resignations — it has become the corruption capital of America.” Lazio said it’s time for Cuomo to join the political fray, if he indeed wants to be governor. “I mean, Andrew Cuomo is spending a whole lot of time raising money right now. He’s telling all the people he wants money from — including every special interest known to Albany and Washington that are funding his campaign — that he’s going to be a candidate for governor. It’s time that he levels with the ordinary citizens that are not rich and powerful about where he stands on tax reductions, property taxes, how he closes the budget deficit, what he’s going to do about Medicaid — the largest program in the New York State budget — what’s his position on the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I mean, after all he is the attorney general. He should have an opinion on whether or not KSM, the self-described mastermind of 9/11, should have a trial in downtown New York, and whether or not he should have the rights and privileges of an ordinary citizen.” Lazio, who lost to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2000 Senate race, is promising big changes in Albany if elected, including a vow to push for a unicameral legislature, and to essentially term-limit himself, calling the governor’s office a “four-year job.” “I’ve been in public office before, and I know what happens when you get in public office,” Lazio said. “You get distracted by your next election or your ambition to run for other office. You spend a lot of time raising money and building up political support, for your own ambitions. I want to put that aside. I think New York’s problems are so fundamental and so deep that it requires, and the people of New York deserve, to have a governor that only focuses on doing the right thing.” He added: “I just want to hand off to my successor a stronger, more independent state than we have right now.” (And Lazio did remember the first interview I did with him — for Panther Tales, the student newspaper of Babylon Junior-Senior High School, in 1993: “You were a tough questioner, I do remember that,” he said, charitably.) Watch the interview with Rick Lazio HERE.
Also today, we checked in with GOP strategist Kevin Madden to discuss today’s primary race in Texas, the latest in the Sen. Jim Bunning saga, plus former Gov. Mitt Romney’s new book.
Watch that portion of “Top Line” HERE.