Cuomo Responds To Prosecutor On Ethics Probe

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Thursday night update: Governor Cuomo has responded to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Cuomo's comments, as reported by the New York Times, are at the bottom of this story.

A federal prosecutor is reportedly warning the Cuomo administration it may investigate whether witness tampering or obstruction of justice took place.  

According to the New York Times, the warning came in a letter from the office of Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, to a lawyer for the Moreland Commissionl.

Cuomo created the commission last year to investigate corruption in Albany, but shut it down in March.

The New York Times reported last week that a top Cuomo aide pressured the commission to stop subpoenas to a media-buying firm that Cuomo used and to a real estate organization whose members financially supported his campaign.

The lengthy investigation by the newspaper revealed that while Cuomo was pledging publicly the panel would be independent and could investigate anyone in state government - including him - behind the scenes Cuomo aides were working to make sure the commission stayed away from Cuomo allies and subjects that might embarass him.

Cuomo has since argued the commission did its job by pushing the state legislature to enact ethics reforms, and that it couldn't very well investigate him, since he created it and it was, in a sense, "his" commission.

The letter from Bharara apparently deals with what's happened since the initial report.

Earlier this week, the governor denied tampering - and he was backed up by statements from members of the commission. On Monday, district attorneys William Fitzpatrick, Thomas Zugibe, Frank Sedita and Gerald Mollen defended the commission's work and independence.

Howewver, The Times reported Thursday Bharara says his office has "reason to believe" some commissioners were asked on Cuomo's behalf to make public statements about the commission's operation. It's not clear who did the asking.

According to the newspaper, Bharara's letter Wednesday to the commission's lawyer says attempting "to influence or tamper with a witness's recollection of events relevant to our investigation" would be examined as potential witness tampering or obstruction.

Bhara's office is already looking into why the commission was shut down well before it was expected to end, and whether any of its unfinished cases should be pursued.

Later Thursday, the newspaper said Cuomo had acknowledged that his office had been in contact with members of the commission, but only to set the record straight.

“The New York Times published a story last week that generated a wave of news reports across the state, some with numerous inaccuracies, and we wanted to correct them,” Cuomo said in a statement reported by the newspaper.

“We discussed these concerns with relevant parties. Several members of the commission (district attorneys and a law school dean) issued personal statements to correct the public record. These statements reiterated comments they had made over the past year.”

Cuomo also told the New York Times “As I believe the U.S. attorney has made it clear that ongoing public dialogue is not helpful to his investigation,we will have no additional comment on the matter.”

That prompted a sharp response from Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY.

""The United States Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, did not say as the Governor suggests, that "ongoing public dialogue is not helpful."

"In fact his reported letter only proscribes communications between the Governor and the Moreland Commissioners. Public dialogue is what keeps our elected officials accountable, and the Governor must address voters' concerns about his conduct.

"The United States Attorney's letter should not be used as a shield against the public or the press," Lerner said in a statement.
   
 

Saturday, October 25, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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