Thursday, November 13, 2003

An attempt to revive accusations that California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger groped several women during his days as an actor seems to have fizzled on the eve of his inauguration.

The accusations first dogged Mr. Schwarzenegger in the last days of the recall effort of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, but did not stop the Republican’s rise from the movie house to the Statehouse. He was chosen to replace the governor by more than 1 million votes.

“It obviously wasn’t a big deal, and there are some in my own party who said it was counterproductive,” said Joe Cerell, a veteran Democratic political consultant. “If it didn’t do diddly squat in the middle of an election, it won’t mean diddly squat now.”

Despite promising in a national television interview just before the election last month to look into the accusations, Mr. Schwarzenegger shrugged off the matter as “old news” shortly after Election Day — and the subject all but disappeared.

That is until California Attorney General Bill Lockyer revived it during a radio interview last week.

Mr. Lockyer, 62, a longtime heavyweight in the state’s Democratic Party who said he voted for Mr. Schwarzenegger, told San Francisco radio station KGO that he heard thirdhand information about another suspected groping incident.

Mr. Lockyer said on the radio that he had a private conversation with Mr. Schwarzenegger in which he told the governor-elect that the misconduct charges “are not going to go away” and would be a “stain” on his administration.

Those comments caused the Schwarzenegger team to accuse Mr. Lockyer of violating the attorney-client privilege between the attorney general and the governor-elect and of placing the results of an independent investigation in peril.

“In regards to a review of allegations that surfaced late in the campaign, the governor-elect had already decided to engage a well-respected investigative firm to look into the allegations,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman. “He had intended to instruct the investigators to turn over the final results of that investigation to the attorney general; he will now reconsider that option.”

Mr. Lockyer, who has $10 million in campaign funds and is considered the early front-runner in a gubernatorial challenge to Mr. Schwarzenegger in 2006, might have made the comments to shore up his political base, said California Republican political consultant Dan Schnur.

“Lockyer probably didn’t anticipate such a strong negative reaction” to his endorsement of Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Schnur said. “He thought he was saying something statesmanlike. This might have been a way to get back into the good graces of his party.”

Mr. Cerell, a longtime friend of Mr. Lockyer’s, said the comments about the groping incident were off-the-cuff and not intended to be malicious.

“I don’t believe there were any ill motives,” Mr. Cerell said. “I think it just came out. He speaks his mind. It was not politically motivated.”

In the end, the groping accusations, Mr. Schnur said, are likely to be little more than a “a gnat that will buzz around for a while.”

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