Mario’s boy became governor following his brief stint in the New York Attorney General’s seat. That’s one prosecutor. Not long after he took the very small step into the Governor’s Mansion, Andrew Cuomo boldly announced the creation of the Moreland Commission, to rid New York State government of corruption.
Two of its chairs were William Fitzpartrick, Onondaga County D.A., and Kathleen Rice, Nassau County D.A. That’s two and three. Cuomo promised that the Moreland Commission would be completely independent and could investigate anyone, anyone at all, even him, which lasted until it sent a subpoena to a company Cuomo used in his election campaign.
He immediately had his errand boy, Lawrence Schwartz, touch Fitzpatrick and quash the subpoena, and then shut down the Moreland Commission. He pulled a quick Bush, announcing “mission accomplished,” then rolled up the carpets and turned off the lights.
The New York Times, inexplicably, noticed all this and called Governor Cuomo out.
When Mr. Cuomo appointed the commission last year, he promised commissioners they would be “totally independent.” They could investigate anybody in state government, even him, he said. Then, as The Times reported, his top aide tried to head off investigations that touched on the governor’s own interests. The aide, Lawrence Schwartz, told some investigators that the governor was off-limits and their job was to go after legislators.
Mr. Cuomo abruptly shut down the commission in March, and in April argued that because he had created it, “it is mine. It is controlled by me.”
Now, he’s trying to sell New Yorkers another unconvincing spin. At a press briefing in Buffalo on Monday, he said that his administration had merely offered “advice” to commissioners and investigators. “Independence doesn’t mean you get holed up in an ivory tower and you don’t talk to anyone,” he said.
Before anyone builds a statue for the Moreland Commission, its honcho, Fitzpatrick, gave his Checkers Speech in writing:
Note that reference to “Preet”? That would be Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Preet makes four. Except Preet didn’t bite on the “laughable” language. He wasn’t laughing at all.
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. Fitzpatrick’s statement on Monday also appeared to contradict previous statements he made to federal prosecutors, according to three people briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak on the record. Mr. Fitzpatrick did not immediately return a call late Wednesday seeking comment.
In fairness to Fitzpatrick, there were ten prosecutors on the commission, others also trying to pull the same butt-kissing schtick of spreading the love to Cuomo. Rockland DA Thomas Zugibe. Erie DA Frank Sedita. Broome DA Gerald Mollen. But despite the kisses blown Preet’s way, he didn’t wrap himself in the warm and fuzzy love of his brethren, the kind words of prosecutorial efficacy and apologia. After all, this commission was charged to investigate political corruption, and if you can’t trust a gaggle of prosecutors to stay on the straight and narrow, who else is there? Governor Cuomo?
On Monday, [Cuomo] made a preposterous claim that the commission’s work was “a phenomenal success” when, in fact, the commission was shut down halfway through its term and had not concluded its investigations.
Except Preet didn’t buy into the “mission accomplished,” or the sweet endearments of Fitzpatrick, or the political clout of Mario’s less attractive boy.
Preet Bharara, United States attorney in Manhattan, has taken over the commission’s inquiries. Any truly independent investigation of corrupt practices in Albany will now depend on Mr. Bharara’s work. What is truly disturbing is that Mr. Cuomo now wants to deny interfering with the commission while claiming that its job was done.
So how many prosecutors does it take? Gotcha. It was a trick question. The answer was always the same: just one. It takes one prosecutor with the guts, the integrity and the will to focus his priorities on political corruption that does far more harm to society than any street corner marijuana conspiracy could conceivably do. Is Preet Bharara the one?
At the moment, it appears that Preet isn’t biting on the love note, the kind words, the extension of the prosecutorial hand of friendship. Then again, if the United States Attorney was interested in political corruption in the first place, there would have been no need for a Moreland Commission depending on Governor Cuomo’s bake sale to do its job.
All the rhetoric about crime, and law, and corruption soothes the tattered nerves of the public, as New York’s elected officials continue to enjoy the bounty of their positions while nobodies like Eric Garner are murdered on the street.
Will Preet be the one? Cuomo has tapped his $35 million campaign fund to lawyer up. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has come to Governor Cuomo’s defense. When all the posturing is over and the political speeches have died out, the first question will be whether anyone gets indicted. The second question will be whether it changes anything. It just takes one, Preet. Just one. Will that be you?