Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Columnists Goodwin & LeBrun: Cuomo Could Be Next

Two columnists, Michael Goodwin of the NY Post and Fred LeBrun of the Times-Union, weighed in this morning on the possibility of Governor Andrew Cuomo facing criminal charges like his buddies Shelly Silver and Dean Skelos.

First Goodwin looks at Cuomo's shutdown of the Moreland Commission:

As he geared up for re-election, Cuomo put his crime-fighter hat back on and finally convened a Moreland panel in 2013. He recruited an impressive array of law-enforcement officials, gave them a wide berth and promised they would be independent.

“It’s going to be a real follow-the-money investigation,” Cuomo told me then. “We want to see who gives you money, the legislation you introduce.”

When I expressed skepticism about his commitment, given his repeated retreats, he insisted this time was different, saying he was as “serious as a heart attack.”

But he wasn’t. As soon as the Legislature gave him modest ­ethics changes, he pulled the plug on Moreland.

That could be his undoing. The gumshoes he appointed with such flair had taken their assignment seriously and were aggressive, apparently too much so for the governor’s taste. Numerous accounts surfaced that his office intervened when probers focused on his donors and allies.

In response, Cuomo offered a series of defenses that grew ­increasingly bizarre. He started with denials and ended up insisting that the panel was never independent.

“It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me,” he told Crain’s magazine.

Fortunately, Bharara had a decidedly different view. He called the decision to prematurely disband the panel “difficult to ­understand” and told Moreland members in writing that it looked as if “investigations potentially significant to the public interest have been bargained away” in a deal among Cuomo, Silver and Skelos.

He seized Moreland’s investigative files in what amounted to a raid on its offices. When reports suggested that Cuomo aides ­solicited statements from panel leaders defending the governor, Bharara warned that such solicitations might “constitute obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses.”

That, publicly at least, is where the investigation stands. Cuomo is using campaign funds to pay a criminal defense lawyer representing his office, and several of his aides hired their own counsel.

It is possible, of course, that the Silver and Skelos verdicts will be the end of Bharara’s campaign. It is also possible that they were the warm-up and the final act is about to unfold.

LeBrun focuses on Cuomo and his campaign donors:

Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara's outstanding work is a wonder to behold and still has a robust future, in spite of his rhetorical response to the Skelos conviction:

"The swift convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos beg an important question: how many prosecutions will it take before Albany gives the people of New York the honest government they deserve?"

Compare that to Governor Andrew Cuomo's response to the same conviction. He, too, expressed confidence in our justice system, which should come as a great relief to Bharara. "However, more must be done and will be pursued as part of my legislative agenda. The convictions ... should be a wake-up call for the legislature and it must stop standing in the way of needed reforms."

Preet points a finger at Albany; Andrew points a finger at the Legislature.

Now, if there is one aspect of the Cuomo personality we can all agree on, it is that he is not clueless. He can try to divert attention to the Legislature, which certainly deserves plenty of the limelight. But he has to be fully aware of the implications of Bharara's reponse.

There is a truism in play that nothing happens of any significance in political Albany without Cuomo's involvement. This is also not wasted on the general public, as poll after poll has showed that the people see Cuomo as part of problem when it comes to corruption.

A question that's begged by the Cuomo response is that despite what he says about the Legislature, what will he do to change his own behavior so as to avoid Bharara's crosshairs? Perhaps we're already seeing clues in the predictable places. We have already seen shifts in the July filing of his campaign war chest which showed $12.7 million, a cesspool of vulnerability for the new standards being carved out by federal prosecutor Bharara. Reportedly, donations from Glenwood Management, lucrative for Cuomo in the past, are way down. Glenwood and its principals were a common denominator, and not in a good way, in both the Skelos and Silver trials.

Where campaign contributions are coming from may be on the move. However, the nearly $35 million plus Cuomo had in his campaign account heading into the last election is probably all a prosecutor might need, if anything was amiss. Last month, in an edifying piece by Chris Smith in New York Magazine, the considerable progress made in tracking corruption among legislators by the now defunct Moreland Commission is revealed. A high-tech security firm used to track money laundered by terrorist groups fittingly adapted software to the cause, so Bharara had a big head start on investigating Skelos and Silver. Presumably, Moreland investigators never looked at Cuomo. They didn't dare, nor was there an internal mandate although there should have been.

Bharara has no such constraints. He has been tactically and strategically brilliant in taking us to the present. With each conviction getting closer and closer to the top, what was once deemed impossible to imagine now has the public holding its breath for the seemingly inevitable.

If Cuomo eventually faces criminal charges, I'm not sure they'll be related to the Moreland shutdown that came in return for the budget deal and modest ethics reform package he got from now-convicted felons Silver and Skelos.

It is known that the executive director of the Moreland Commission, Regina Cacaterra, was feeding Cuomo's office everything that happened within the commission, sometimes in real time via her cell phone, so it's unlikely that Cuomo wouldn't have known that the commission was looking closely at Silver and his outside income.

The evidence that Bharara used against Silver came, in part, from the Moreland investigation, but the Skelos evidence did not (in fact, when it was first leaked that Bharara was investigating Skelos last January, an anonymous source who had served on the Moreland Commission told the Daily News that the commission had been building cases against "a number of" state Senate Republicans but Skelos was not one of them.)

Rather the evidence used against Skelos came from something that was learned as part of the Silver trial.

While there's a pretty good reason to suspect that Cuomo knew exactly what he was doing when he offered to shut down Moreland in return for the budget deal and the modest ethics reforms (i.e., he was saving Shelly Silver from trouble), it seemingly would be hard to prove that.

So the obstruction of justice angle in the Moreland shut down that Goodwin writes about, I have a difficult time seeing Cuomo face charges for that.

No, where I think Cuomo's got problems is with his donors and just what, exactly, they're telling Preet and his prosecutors in the investigations.

The first indication there was something Cuomo didn't want uncovered was when it was reported Larry Schwartz, his secretary at the time of the commission and liaison to all things Moreland, told the commission to "pull back" a subpoena they were preparing to send out to a TV ad company that the New York State Democratic Party and the Cuomo campaign had used.

Schwartz was also said to have interfered with a subpoena that the commission was going to send to REBNY, a real estate group made up in large measure of Cuomo donors, that was meant to get to the bottom of the connections between the group's political donations and a lucrative tax break the real estate industry received (Glenwood Management, the governor's bestest donor in those years, was a member of REBNY, and later was revealed to be tied up in the separate Silver and Skelos cases.)

The NY Times reported Schwartz was said to have told one of the three commission leaders on the phone "There will be no subpoena."

The Times also reported that a planned subpoena to a major retailer that received a tax break in the governor's budget received resistance from Cuomo's shill on the commission, Regina Calcaterra.


The question becomes, when Preet grabbed the Moreland files, did he follow up on the work that the Moreland commissioners were about to do looking into Cuomo's own donors/supporters and, if so, what did he learn?

He likely did follow up on some things, as two of the people who were granted non-prosecution agreements in the Silver and Skelos cases respectively were Cuomo donors (Charles Dorego, the political bagman for Glenwood Management, got an NPA for the Silver case and Skelos cases and Anthony Bonomo, the owner of a medical malpractice insurer that gave Dean Skelos' son Adam a cushy, almost-no show job in return for legislation that benefited his company, got one in the Skelos trial.)

Glenwood has given to Cuomo generously since he took office, either directly or through various LLC's.

Newsday reported no individual received more political donations from Glenwood and its various LLC's than Andrew Cuomo.

In addition, entities linked to and/or allied with Cuomo were recipients of Glenwood largesse. 

The Committee To Save NY, a shadowy PAC that supported the governor's agenda early in his first term before it was shut down when laws changed and it would have had to reveal who was behind it, received $500,000 from Glenwood and the State Democratic Party, an entity that essentially operates as a subsidiary of the Cuomo campaign, received $365,000 from Glenwood.

Anthony Bonomo too was a happy giver to Cuomo and admitted on the stand in the Skelos case that his son had gotten a state job after he donated to Cuomo's campaign.  Bonomo himself got picked to head the NYRA before he was forced to step down after his involvement in the Skelos mess was revealed.

So, we have some smoke already around Cuomo with the Glenwood and the Bonomo connections and Dorego and Bonomo already telling tales in the Silver and Skelos cases - it's not a stretch to think they're telling tales on Cuomo too.

Couple that with the subpoenas that went out in the Buffalo Billion Project probe to at least one of Cuomo's donors and the state entities involved in handling a bidding process that looks suspiciously like it was rigged to be won by Cuomo's donors, and you have a governor who is very, very vulnerable on the campaign donations issues.

I've had readers of the blog say in the past that there will be no explicit quid pro quo between anybody in the Cuomo administration and Cuomo's donors found over any of this, no smoking gun that can be used to arrest some member of the administration or Cuomo himself over the matter.

That's likely true.

Yet after Bharara nailed Shelly Silver with a seven count corruption conviction without proving an explicit quid pro quo between Shelly and his marks, you have to wonder how much the smoking gun matters.

As Tom Precious reported in the Buffalo News today:

The felony convictions of both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos within less than two weeks will only further empower the U.S. attorney from the Southern District of Manhattan in his self-stated cause to clean up Albany, according to people in and outside government who have been watching the cases play out.

“I think any time a prosecutor wins a conviction in an important case, his credibility goes up,” said Salvatore Martoche, a former U.S. Attorney of the Western District of New York and former state appellate court judge.

“He’s got to feel that this is a mandate, and the public is going to give him every benefit of the doubt,” Martoche added.

Certainly juries are giving him the benefit of the doubt. 

While the Skelos case, with the wiretaps exposing explicit criminal activity getting played to the jury day after day, was seemingly going to end with a guilty verdict, the Silver case was much more subtle - one of the prosecution's witnesses even admitted there was no explicit quid pro quo agreement between himself and Shelly Silver in Silver's asbestos case referral scheme.

The defense argued that there was no crime there, this was just a "friends doing favors for friends" kind of thing, business as usual in Albany and really, nothing to concerned about.

Yet the jury didn't see it that way and Bharara got the conviction on all seven counts.

Interestingly enough, Cuomo used a Silveresque defense of his own when it came to talking about political donations and state contracts related to the Buffalo Billion Project:

Asked recently whether it's a problem that people getting state grants and contracts are contributing to his campaign fund, Cuomo noted that's not new.

"It hasn't been a problem for the past 100 years, so I don't know why it would be today," he said.

Will that defense work if Bharara decides to bring a case against Cuomo over his campaign donations and the state contracts his administration was handing out as part of the $1 billion dollar Buffalo Billion Project or the largesse the real estate industry showered upon him in return for tax breaks and other political gifts?

Hard to know, but a similar argument in the Silver trial - this stuff is just business as usual - didn't work with that jury.

Had Silver walked in his trial or gotten a mistrial (which seemed possible at one point with a juror complaining she wasn't getting along with other jurors), Bharara would have suffered a setback for whatever other cases he was pursuing.

But as the Precious article points out, the Silver slam dunk, along with the Skelos convictions, empowers Bharara to bring whatever other cases he might have in the pipeline - including one against a sitting governor with an awful lot of smoke around him and his donors, two of whom had NPA's in the Silver and Skelos cases.

Whether Bharara goes that far, it's certainly impossible to know.

But as LeBrun wrote in his column, what once was deemed impossible is starting to feel like the inevitable.

The Precious piece points out that the clock is ticking on Bharara, with a presidential election coming next year, so whatever cases he plans to bring, he's going to have to bring them soon.

I guess for now we'll just have to take Bharara's own advice and stay tuned.

But what a show it is.

14 comments:

  1. Cuomo is the new Blagojevich!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Incarcerate Cuomo in Dannemora Penitentiary so that the inmates can have their way with Andy boy Cuomo.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cuomo will include a bill in his budget that prohibits indictments of anyone named Cuomo.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Everything Preet has done up to now has only strengthened Cuomo. Unfortunately, there will be no indictment of "Rat-Faced Andy".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do explain how Cuomo has been strengthened by all this.

      Delete
  5. If Goodwin is commenting on it, it's a done deal.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My gut feeling about Cuomo is that, while he's at least as dirty as Silver and Skelos when it comes to self-dealing, if not more; it's not about money for him. At least not in his pockets. Cuomo's ambition is for power. He doesn't need elaborate schemes to launder money into his personal accounts. He want that money for his campaign. And it might be a bridge you far to argue graft if all the bribe money went into campaign committees to buy political add instead of private hands to by houses with pools.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *He wants that money for his campaign. And it might be a bridge too far to argue graft...

      Delete
    2. John
      I have to agree...Cuomo is not greedy for money just power. And more power. And it is hard to indict and/or convict on that one.

      Delete
  7. I could give two craps about Goodwin, but if LeBrun is ringing the 'inevitable' bell, then maybe it will happen. I'm almost too sour to hope!

    ReplyDelete
  8. If Silver and Skelos knew anything about Moreland that could have been used to get Andy, they would surely would have dealt it to Bharara.
    Both must have known they were staring at conviction and jail time AND Bharara is eager to indict Cuomo.
    So I am thinking Moreland is not fertile ground for a Cuomo indictment.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It may be too early to speculate as to whether or not Bharara is ultimately going after Cuomo. However, you have to wonder if Silver or Skelos will plea bargain somewhere down the road to reduce their respective prison sentences? The fact that Bharara is playing it very "close to the vest" speaks volumes. He is waiting for the right moment. I do not believe that Cuomo will be arrested but, he's likely going to be heavily implicated in tampering (Moreland Commission) and certainly with his questionable campaign contributions and the. What will likely happen is that all of Cuomo's "lieutenants" will be fingered, first. Larry Schwartz is going to be a high profile target. Bonomo, too. Cuomo will feign innocence throughout and will likely survive but, severely wounded. However, as recent events in NY have proven, the public has short-term memory when it comes to forgiving elected officials. It's pretty sad that despite obvious corruption, we keep allowing idiots who are nothing but corrupt, to keep resurfacing in 'other' roles in the media/government. Never mind that we have seen a sitting governor resign and members of the state legislature implicated in all matter of illegal/immoral activity. If Bharara is truly going to clean house as promised, he MUST expose corruption at the top. It's going to be an interesting New Year and I suspect we're in for quite a ride!

    On another note, all Cuomo's B.S. maneuvering on Common Core is to try and rebuild and re-brand him as a sympathetic and caring man. Well, we know that it's all a crock. The public is on to Andy's deception.

    Happy New Year! It's about to get VERY interesting!

    ReplyDelete
  10. MIchael Goodwin is a paid troll for the ny post. This goon goes on radio shows and never has anything nice to say about nyc public schools. Goodwin was a bloomberg brownnose and a troll for the post so whatever this google eyed bozo writes is bull crap.

    ReplyDelete