NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that he never doubted state and federal prosecutors would decline to charge him or his aides with violating campaign finance laws.
Both the U.S. Attorney and the Manhattan District Attorney decided not to indict the mayor or his aides following their separate probes of his campaign financing.
“I fully expected this conclusion would be reached,” the mayor said when asked about the outcome of the investigation at an afternoon news conference. “We comported ourselves in a legal, ethical and appropriate manner. This situation has been resolved, and now we’ve got to get back to serving the people of New York City 24-7.”
Before he was fired over the weekend, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had been investigating pay to play and whether de Blasio donors got favorable treatment from city agencies.
The investigation centered around accusations that de Blasio and his aides gave favorable treatment to donors who contributed to his 2013 mayoral election campaign, the mayor’s now-defunct political action committee Campaign for One New York, and the 2014 State Senate effort.
Federal investigators questioned de Blasio for nearly five hours in late February.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday it found no evidence of misconduct or criminality.
Among the things federal prosecutors looked at was the controversial Rivington nursing home deal, in which city officials allowed a nursing home on the Lower East Side to be converted to condominiums. Federal prosecutors also investigated city negotiations with de Blasio donor Harendra Singh to lease the property for his water’s edge Long Island City, Queens restaurant – which is on city property.
“After careful deliberation, given the totality of the circumstances here and absent additional evidence, we do not intend to bring federal criminal charges against the Mayor or those acting on his behalf relating to the fundraising efforts in question,” Bharara’s replacement, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim, said in a statement.
Joon said the decision not to pursue the case took into account “…the high burden of proof, the clarity of existing law, any recent changes in the law, and the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit.”
The prosecutor also said the unusual decision to issue the statement was made “…in order not to unduly influence the upcoming campaign and mayoral election.”
De Blasio has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying everything was done with the advice of his legal team.
“From the beginning, it’s been basically a year, I’ve said consistently that we acted appropriately, we acted ethically, we acted lawfully,” de Blasio said earlier on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “I think this confirms what I’ve been saying and all my colleagues have been saying that we hold ourselves to a high standard and we will continue to.”
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, there was no mistaking the relief and utter joy as de Blasio discussed the prosecutors’ decisions Thursday. But while there will be no formal charges – and the mayor can proceed full speed ahead with his reelection campaign, he did not receive a fully clean bill of ethical health.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said a scheme concocted by team de Blasio to help elect Democrats to the State Senate, which circumvented campaign donation limits by funneling large contributions to county committees, violated the “spirit” of the campaign laws, CBS2’s Kramer reported.
Vance said the scheme created “an end run around the direct candidate contribution limits.”
Vance said that a person who relies on legal counsel cannot be found to have “willfully” broken the law, Kramer reported.
De Blasio said he hadn’t had a chance to analyze Vance’s statement but insisted, “We did everything within the law, everything within clear ethical standards; we sought guidance and clarity. Everything we did not only conformed to the law but went in many cases beyond.”
Vance also said he would not prosecute allegations of election violations in state senate races in 2014 but said it didn’t mean he condoned the behavior. The district attorney asked both the state Board of Elections and the Legislature to change the laws to eliminate any loopholes.
“This conclusion is not an endorsement of the conduct at issue; indeed, the transactions appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws that impose candidate contribution limits, laws which are meant to prevent ‘corruption and the appearance of corruption’ in the campaign financing process,” he wrote in a letter to the state board of elections.
City Hall Press Secretary Eric Phillips issued a statement after the ruling saying, “We have been confident from the moment these reviews began that the actions of the mayor and our administration have always been within the law. The United States Attorney and Manhattan District Attorney have now put to rest any suggestion otherwise. We thank these prosecutors’ offices for conducting what were clearly diligent and exhaustive reviews – and for making public the conclusions of these probes. New Yorkers deserve honest, progressive government. With this mayor, they will always get it.”
The mayor also added a note of political gratitude.
“I appreciate that both the U.S. Attorney’s office and the District Attorney’s Office did a very thorough effort,” he added. “We cooperated from the very beginning, we said we wanted to help in any way we can, we could and we did offer a lot of assistance and information and I appreciate that they completed their process and made their findings public especially with an election coming in a matter of months.”
De Blasio said both prosecutors “made very clear — unequivocally — that there was no violation of law and now again we have to get back to work.”
The mayor still faces the daunting task of raising millions of dollars to pay his lawyers, and at least one of his opponents says he is not letting de Blasio off the hook.
“De Blasio’s numerous pay-to-play scandals remain highly unethical and disqualifying,” said opponent Paul Massey.
Massey demanded that the mayor use public matching funds to reimburse taxpayers for the $11.6-million they have already shelled out to defend members of his administration.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)