Published On: Thu, Aug 7th, 2014

Cuomo and the Commission

Leaders of the Moreland Commission, front row, from left: Kathleen M. Rice, Milton L. Williams Jr. and William J. Fitzpatrick, the panel’s co-chairs, and Regina M. Calcaterra, its executive director. CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times

The Moreland Commission. It all began with much fanfare back in July 2013. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that corruption in the halls of the State Capital of Albany had to end. In stentorious tones, Governor Cuomo averred that this time it would be different. This time the Commission would take on all comers. The governor declared that the Commission would be independent. “Anything they want to look at – me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.” was fair game.  Andrew Cuomo had thrown down the gauntlet.

However, that is not how it turned out at all. According to the New York Times, it was just two months into the commission’s work when the heavy handed interference began. The commission had issued subpoenas to a political advertising organization which also worked for the Cuomo campaign. When it was discovered that a paisan of the governor was being subpoened, his consigliere Lawrence S Schwartz quickly reacted. According to the Times:

‘Word that the subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:

“Pull it back.”

The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.

“They apparently produced ads for the governor,” she wrote.’

Nathaniel Brooks for The NYT                   Mike Groll/Associated Press

Governor Cuomo and his people not only interfered with the Moreland Commission that he had appointed, he subsequently disbanded it in March 2014. It had only served about half the time expected to complete its mission. Cuomo not only dismissed the commission, he attempted to trash it as a “mess.”

So much for an independent commission that can investigate anyone at will. The blatant arrogance of the Cuomo administration is such that they answered questions about the handling of the commission with a derisive statement:

“A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive,” the statement said. “It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.”

Actually, it is the Governor’s statement and arrant nonsense that does not pass the “laugh test.”

It is now obvious that the whole Moreland Commission was a fraud perpetrated on the people of New York state. There was never any real desire to clean up the Augean Stables of corruption in all the halls of power in Albany. Cuomo just wanted to use the commission to pressure the state legislature into passing some fig leaf of a political reform bill to make him look effective before his re-election effort. The feeble reform legislation that passed and Cuomo signed would also never pass the “laugh test.”

The New York Times has done a sterling job of journalism on this matter. In a follow up article titled Gov. Cuomo’s Latest Excuses, the editorial board of the paper dismissed statements coming from the governor’s office as complete hogwash. It pointed out that the Moreland Commission appointed by the governor was to be independent, according to his own words, which he now has withdrawn in the wake of his flagrant abuse of power.

The Moreland Commission may be defunct, but before its demise its work drew the attention of the US Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara. Mr Bharara told Charlie Rose that:

Our interest above all other interests is to make sure that the job is getting done, because we are the people who do our jobs,” Bharara told Rose. “So we asked for and received—we were voluntarily offered—all the documents that have been collected by the commission so the work could continue, because if other people aren’t going to do it, then we’re going to do it. That’s our main mission.”

That statement must have sent shivers up the spines of every politician in Albany including Governor Cuomo. Then the New York Times story broke and that put the fox among the chickens. On July 31, the New York Times reported that:

In an escalation of the confrontation between the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over the governor’s cancellation of his own anticorruption commission, Mr. Bharara has threatened to investigate the Cuomo administration for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering. (Emphasis added)

The warning, in a sharply worded letter from Mr. Bharara’s office, came after several members of the panel issued public statements defending the governor’s handling of the panel, known as the Moreland Commission, which Mr. Cuomo created last year with promises of cleaning up corruption in state politics but shut down abruptly in March.

Mr. Bharara’s office has been investigating the shutdown of the commission, and pursuing its unfinished corruption cases, since April.”

Mr Bharara has a reputation of winning cases that he takes on. He has targeted Wall Street and New York State politicians and has won virtually every case he has brought to court. He is not the adversary that Governor Cuomo wants to face in an election year.

Cuomo was counting on a huge win in for re-election to enhance his chances for a possible presidential run. These revelations do not help even in deep blue New York State. Whether or not Cuomo’s opponent, Republican Bob Astorino can capitalize on the slime that now covers the Cuomo administration is yet to be determined, but Astorino’s campaign has been quick to exploit the governors woes.

“As indictments and embarrassments continue (26 at latest count since 1999), New Yorkers will have to decide if their representatives are politicians they can trust, including Mr. Cuomo.” – The New York Times, July 24, 2014

“Mr. Cuomo’s aides blocked [anti-corruption commission] whenever it tried to investigate the governor’s office or his biggest supporters.” – The New York Times, July 24, 2014

“Scandal Exposes Cuomo as Liar and Phony”New York Post state political editor, July 24, 2014

“The [NY] Times found that the governor’s office interfered with the commission when it was looking into groups that were politically close to him. [Andrew Cuomo].” –The New York Times, July 23, 2014

“Cuomo was elected attorney general and then governor pledging to end the corrupt culture that had come to define the Empire State. Now he’s a symbol of it.” – New York Post state political editor, July 24, 2014

These are an example of the reaction of the Astorino campaign to the growing Moreland Commission scandal.

This scandal may not doom Andrew Cuomo’s reelection chances in such a blue state as New York, but they certainly cannot help either locally or on the national stage.

Stay tuned, people:, this show is just getting started. Cuomo has lawyered up and the participants in the scandal are circling the wagons.

About the Author

- Paul Bianco, retired from a career in sales, now spends his spare time as a gadfly on the many political blogs. Paul says he is just going through a phase, but that phase seems to have lasted two decades. Paul's conservative political philosophy was formed well before conservative talk radio and Fox News came along. Paul remembers the days when conservatives like William F Buckley Jr were voices in the wilderness "standing athwart history, yelling stop!" From time to time Paul contributes some of the insights he has gained from observing politics for so many years, and hopes that readers will be entertained and perhaps even enlightened.