ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Political foes of Gov. Andrew Cuomo have called for a prompt criminal investigation of his administration, following a New York Times report that said Cuomo’s office repeatedly compromised the work of a commission the governor set up to root out corruption.
As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, when Cuomo first ran for governor, it was with the promise to stop corruption in Albany.
As New York state Attorney General, he launched investigations into a number of corrupt politicians – including then-state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., who was convicted and sent to prison.
“The chronic dysfunction of Albany metastasized into the corruption of Albany, and it was a bipartisan affliction,” Cuomo said while running for governor in May 2010. “Unfortunately, Albany’s antics today could make Boss Tweed blush.”
Thus, it was no great surprise when he named a special commission – the Moreland Commission – last year to probe corruption and make recommendations for ethics reform.
“I want to send a signal to two audiences — one are the elected officials in the state of New York — we’re going to raise the bar on public integrity; public trust. And second are the people of the state. I want to say ‘Look, we have the best people in the business watching,’” Cuomo said in July 2013.
But though it was launched on vows of independence, the now-defunct Moreland Commission was “hobbled,” the Times reported.
Cuomo’s office thwarted attempts by the special corruption commission to investigate groups with ties to him, according to the report.
The newspaper claimed Cuomo’s office objected “whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.”
Commission Secretary Larry Schwartz pressured commissioners to stop subpoenas to Buying Time, a media-buying firm Cuomo used, and the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members financially supported the governor’s campaign, the Times reported.
The newspaper said its findings were the result of a lengthy three-month investigation of e-mails, subpoenas, internal documents, and interviews.
State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox and gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino said the allegations amount to criminal obstruction of justice.
Astorino told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond the independent commission was supposed to look into corruption where ever it led, “And it seems when it led to the governor’s office, it was turned away. It was quashed. That’s obstruction of justice.”
Criminal Probe Of Cuomo Administration Urged In Wake Of NY Times Report On Moreland Commission
The governor’s office vigorously defended his actions. Cuomo’s office told the newspaper that it would be “a pure conflict of interest’ and would not pass the test’ for a commission appointed by the governor to investigate the governor.
Spokesmen did not immediately reply to requests for comment Wednesday.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the article “reveals the stark contradiction between the governor’s public statements promising the independence of the commission and then the behind-the-scenes actions of his staff.”
“He made statements that he was going to restore the public’s faith in government, that the Moreland Commission was designed to do that, and now we have clear indication that the circumstances surrounding the Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption simply confirms the public’s cynicism and distrust of government,” Lerner told 1010 WINS.
Lerner believes the governor can reestablish the voters’ trust by enacting the full-range of the Moreland Commission‘s recommendations.
The commission was ultimately disbanded halfway through its 18-month life. But that did not happen before Cuomo was able to use the commission’s report to get state lawmakers to agree to a package of ethics reforms, which created new crimes for violating the public trust and corrupting government.
The co-chair of the commission, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, said the governor did not prevent him from investigating corruption.
But with politics at play – given that Como is seeking re-election – federal prosecutors have begun investigating the roles played by Cuomo and members of his staff in the commission’s demise, WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane reported.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is also trying to determine whether the panel left any unfinished business and politicians he might indict.
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