Albany — Rich Baum's fearless battles with partisan power brokers made him a star in the Orange County Legislature.

Albany — Rich Baum's fearless battles with partisan power brokers made him a star in the Orange County Legislature.

Baum's quick intellect earned him a spot at Eliot Spitzer's right hand as the crusading attorney general rode into Albany as the state's self-proclaimed savior last year.

It took just a couple of e-mails to land him in the center of a scandal threatening his young political career and the governor's entire first-year agenda.

The three e-mails sent to Baum suggest that he, as the governor's chief of staff, had some knowledge of his subordinates' efforts to craft state police records about Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno's use of state helicopters and leak them to the media.

How much did he know Republican senators demanded, as they threatened subpoenas to pursue a scandal that has already claimed two of Spitzer's top aides.

The calls for answers escalated yesterday amid revelations that Baum refused to talk to attorney general investigators about the leak plot.

"The e-mails went by him when they were trying to set me up," Bruno said yesterday.

"If Rich Baum is there, and he had no knowledge of what was going on, shame on him."

Two of the e-mails in question came from communication director Darren Dopp, whom Spitzer suspended Monday for his role in planting a story about Bruno's state-funded air travel July 1 in the Albany Times Union.

But the paper trail leaves tantalizing questions unanswered: Did Baum realize it was Dopp who was talking about a leak? Did he know the state police would have to essentially tail Bruno to respond to it? Did he discuss it with the governor?

"No," "No," and "No," the Town of Wallkill native said in a round of calls to reporters yesterday.

Meanwhile, the scandal and the threat of more probes eclipsed all business at the Capitol.

"All I can tell you is the truth," Baum said. "I did not know of the improper things in that report, the gathering of real-time intelligence described in that report."

Baum said he only refused to be questioned because attorney general investigators seemed satisfied with the sworn statement he provided.

He said he had not considered how he would respond to a Senate subpoena and had no plans to step down from his post.

But several observers thought Baum and Dopp might have little choice but to resign if the scandal lingers.

Their credibility had been damaged with the very people with whom they were expected to interact: For Baum, the Senate; for Dopp, the media.