Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What Andrew Cuomo Has Done Is A Lot Worse Than What Rick Perry Was Indicted For

Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune:

A Travis County grand jury on Friday indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts, alleging he abused his power by threatening to veto funding for the state's Public Integrity Unit unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who had pleaded guilty to drunk driving, stepped down.

It appears to those on the governor’s side of the argument that he has the right to cut the funding of agencies run by people who will not quit on his demand.

It appears to those on the prosecutor’s side that his funding veto and the threat that preceded it were an attempt to intimidate and coerce the office that has the job of policing corruption and ethics cases in state government.

The threat is the thing. Had the governor simply cut the funding without saying anything — especially in public, but even in private — this would just be a strange veto. That is not unprecedented.

But Perry did speak out. He decided that Lehmberg’s serving time for a drunk driving arrest, or running a gauntlet of public opprobrium that includes an eternal presence of arrest night video on the Internet, was not enough.


Perry pressed ahead, knowing he was on a political stage as well as an official one. He demanded Lehmberg’s resignation and conditioned continued funding of her office on that demand.

She said it was improper and rebuffed him. He did what he promised and vetoed the state funding intended to support investigations of ethics and corruption and tax and other state cases.

Texans for Public Justice — that’s the liberal-leaning group that started this —complained to prosecutors, officially posing the question about whether a crime had been committed.

A special prosecutor was appointed, keeping Lehmberg out of the official proceeding, to take the case to a grand jury, a panel given the job of deciding whether the charges were plain political bunk or worth presenting to a criminal jury or judge. And that panel decided it ought to go forward.

Let's contrast that Perry story with some of Cuomo's Moreland stories.

First, this one from the NY Times:

With Albany rocked by a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set up a high-powered commission last summer to root out corruption in state politics. It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party.

The investigators did not realize that the firm, Buying Time, also counted Mr. Cuomo among its clients, having bought the airtime for his campaign when he ran for governor in 2010.

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.

The pulled-back subpoena was the most flagrant example of how the commission, established with great ceremony by Mr. Cuomo in July 2013, was hobbled almost from the outset by demands from the governor’s office.

While the governor now maintains he had every right to monitor and direct the work of a commission he had created, many commissioners and investigators saw the demands as politically motivated interference that hamstrung an undertaking that the governor had publicly vowed would be independent.

The commission developed a list of promising targets, including a lawmaker suspected of using campaign funds to support a girlfriend in another state and pay tanning-salon bills. The panel also highlighted activities that it saw as politically odious but perfectly legal, like exploiting a loophole to bundle enormous campaign contributions.

But a three-month examination by The New York Times found that the governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.

Ultimately, Mr. Cuomo abruptly disbanded the commission halfway through what he had indicated would be an 18-month life. And now, as the Democratic governor seeks a second term in November, federal prosecutors are investigating the roles of Mr. Cuomo and his aides in the panel’s shutdown and are pursuing its unfinished business.

Before its demise, Mr. Cuomo’s aides repeatedly pressured the commission, many of whose members and staff thought they had been given a once-in-a-career chance at cleaning up Albany. As a result, the panel’s brief existence — and the writing and editing of its sole creation, a report of its preliminary findings — was marred by infighting, arguments and accusations. Things got so bad that investigators believed a Cuomo appointee was monitoring their communications without their knowledge. Resignations further crippled the commission. In the end, the governor got the Legislature to agree to a package of ethics reforms far less ambitious than those the commission had recommended — a result Mr. Cuomo hailed as proof of the panel’s success.

And then this one, again from the NY Times:

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.

 In the letter, sent late Wednesday afternoon to a lawyer for the panel, prosecutors alluded to a number of statements made by its members on Monday, which generally defended Mr. Cuomo’s handling of the commission. The statements were released on the same day Mr. Cuomo first publicly responded to a report in The New York Times that described how he and his aides had compromised the commission’s work.

At least some of those statements were prompted by calls from the governor or his emissaries, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation who were unwilling to be named for fear of reprisal.

One commissioner who received a call from an intermediary on behalf of the governor’s office said he found the call upsetting and declined to make a statement.

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.”
 Reached late Wednesday night, a spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter from Mr. Bharara’s office. A lawyer for the commission declined to comment on the letter.

 The Times reported last week that Mr. Cuomo’s office had deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting when it focused on groups with political ties to Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who is seeking re-election, or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.

 The Times’s article prompted condemnations from government watchdog groups and newspaper editorial boards. Mr. Cuomo, facing perhaps the harshest scrutiny of his three and a half years as governor, remained out of public view for five days as criticism mounted. 

If Perry was indicted for what he did, how can Cuomo NOT be indicted for what he did?

Quashing subpoenas to his own donors so that the Moreland Commissioners couldn't investigate them, trading away criminal investigations conducted by the Moreland Commission in return for an on-time 2014 budget, tampering with potential grand jury witnesses, having his henchman write up statements of support from the Moreland Commissioners (statements which he then pointed to in his own public statement of defense against the meddling and tampering charges made by the NY Times) - don't these add up to a much bigger case than what the special prosecutor has against Rick Perry?

And that's just the stuff we know about - it's probable that US Attorney Preet Bharara, the prosecutor looking into the Moreland mess has more on Cuomo than we know about.

Steve McLaughlin summed it up nicely on Twitter:

Seems to me, if Perry has been indicted for the Lehmberg case, Andrew Cuomo should be indicted for Moreland.

Whether that happens or not is a different story - Texas is Texas and New York is New York, a special prosecutor looking into a case is one thing, a US attorney looking into a case is another thing.

But I bet Andrew Cuomo's dinner didn't sit so well with him last night after he saw what happened to Perry.


  1. Nothing can stop Cuomo, exc. Preet Bharara.
    Notice how NYSUT and the UFT are silent, endorsing neither Hawkins or Teachout.
    Notice the silence of the NYC area media, save the New York Times.
    A test of WNYC's integrity will be if they begin to give the Moreland issue the attention it deserves.

    1. The original Times report didn't really give us anything new about Moreland - Ken Lovett of the Daily News had broken much of that story previously, and the Times Union had some of it as well.

      I never found much integrity at WNYC. Stopped listening years ago, but every time I do turn it on and hear Brian Lehrer toss softballs to ed deformers, I am reminded why I stopped listening.

    2. Yes, and let's also not forget Beth "The Reform Stenographer" Fertig.

      WNYC's coverage of education has for years been a textbook example of what Chris Hedges calls "The Death of the Liberal Class."

    3. I used to follow Fertig on Twitter but the nonsense she would write would send me apoplectic and I'd respond with scorn. Finally did with her Twitter feed what I did with WNYC - cut them off.

  2. The Bharara "investigation" is a canard unlikely to bear fruit, as he tends to be fairly easily(and for that matter cheaply) bought off.If Andy boy had fun size Mayor kinda loot st hid disposal, things could be a whole lot more FUN!

    1. I agree, he gave Bloomberg a pass on the Independence Party bribes. Same for much of Wall Street outside of the insider traders. Matt Taibbi covered that well in Rolling Stone. But he has reason to dislike Cuomo (with Andy showing him up and all) and may have political ambitions as well. Taking down Cuomo might help those. So while I agree Bharara is no righteous guy, he may have cynical reasons for taking down Cuomo. Which is fine by me so long as Cuomo goes down.