New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is certainly taking some heat for torpedoing his own commission that was set up to investigate ethics violations and other felonious activities in state government. But there was a problem: the commission was looking into his friends. His office allegedly ran interference on some of the investigations conducted by the Moreland Commission, which was already marred by intra-office politics, especially between its executive director and its chief of investigations.
Now, New York’s U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is warning Governor Cuomo that his office could become subjected to an investigation over witness tampering and obstruction of justice. According to the New York Times, Mr. Bharara’s office has been looking into the reasons for Mr. Cuomo’s premature dissolution of his ethics commission:
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.
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.
The letter from prosecutors, which was read to The New York Times, says, “We have reason to believe a number of commissioners recently have been contacted about the commission’s work, and some commissioners have been asked to issue public statements characterizing events and facts regarding the commission’s operation.”
“To the extent anyone attempts to influence or tamper with a witness’s recollection of events relevant to our investigation, including the recollection of a commissioner or one of the commission’s employees, we request that you advise our office immediately, as we must consider whether such actions constitute obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses that violate federal law.”
The Times noted that William J. Fitzpatrick, one of the commission’s co-chairs, said that no such interference occurred, which contradicts what he wrote in his emails when the commission was active.
News of the governor hobbling his own crusade to wipe out corruption in the Empire State has only brought media scrutiny, which resulted in Cuomo throwing a temper tantrum. And giving a rather puerile response to the allegations that was read on MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier this week.
Cuomo, who’s running for re-election, isn’t the only one facing legal matters. Rob Astorino, his Republican opponent, is also the subject of an investigation. Allegedly, Mr. Astorino strong-armed staffers, family members, and friends to change registration to the Independence Party during his re-election bid for his Westchester County executive seat, according to Politico:
A New York prosecutor’s office is reviewing a request for an investigation of GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino over a messy lawsuit relating to a minor party and allegations that he made threats over an endorsement he didn’t get.
A spokesman for the Westchester County district attorney’s office told POLITICO officials are “reviewing” a request sent by lawyer Peter Tilem two months ago in relation to a civil racketeering case filed against Astorino by officials with the Independence Party over the 2013 endorsement process for Astorino’s ultimately-successful reelection effort.
The suit claims that Astorino tried to get friends and relatives to switch their registration to the Independence Party as part of an effort to secure their nomination in last year’s county-executive race, which ultimately went to his Democratic opponent. Astorino did not seek the IP’s endorsement in the gubernatorial race; the party has endorsed Cuomo.
New York permits fusion tickets, in which major party candidates can boost their margins by securing minor party ballot lines.
The complaint alleges that Astorino “coerced dozens of staff members, political associates, friends and family members” to change their party registration to the Independence Party. The Astorino-controlled county government allegedly back-dated registration forms and accepted documents after legal deadlines, a summary of the complaint contends.
Daily Kos Elections asked the following:
In a word: chaos. But, it’s the entertaining, popcorn-filled kind.