No sooner had Ken Lovett, Daily News reporter, learned that Percoco was under scrutiny in US Attorney Preet Bharara's probe into the Buffalo Billion Project that he got this doozy of a comment from another former aide to Cuomo, looking to distance the governor from Percoco:
Steven Cohen, Cuomo's former chief of staff in both the attorney general's office and the governor's office, said Cuomo won't put his friendship above "integrity and the obligation owed to the public."
"Friend or not, any instance of misconduct will be met with unambiguous action to ferret out the wrongdoing, correct the problem and ensure that law enforcement exacts the appropriate penalty," Cohen said.
How's that for Cuomo's throwing his "closest and most loyal" former aide under the bus quicker than you can say "Moreland"?
And yet, was Percoco actually Cuomo's former aide?
A report from a week back says not in all practicality.
Percoco left Cuomo's employ back in January for the private sector, allegedly to make more money than he was getting paid working for Cuomo ($169,000), but Erica Orden at the Wall Street Journal reported on April 21 that it almost seemed like Percoco hadn't left Cuomo's employ at all:
In January, one of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides departed to work as a senior vice president at Madison Square Garden Co., a company whose executive chairman is close with the governor and one that has a variety of business before the state.
It seems the staffer, Joseph Percoco, hasn’t left Mr. Cuomo’s side.
In recent months, Mr. Percoco has continued to function as the governor’s aide, in situations that some legal experts and ethics watchdogs say raise questions about potential conflicts of interest and his compliance with public-officers law. The law restricts his ability to appear before the executive chamber or receive compensation from his current employer for work before the governor’s office.
The Garden and Mr. Cuomo’s office disputed that Mr. Percoco’s actions were improper.
A week after beginning his new job at the Garden, Mr. Percoco was walking the floor at Mr. Cuomo’s State of the State address, a staff badge slung from his neck as he consulted with attendees.
In April, he appeared at Mr. Cuomo’s celebration of the state’s new minimum-wage law, huddling in the staff area with employees of the Cuomo administration. A person involved in the event confirmed Mr. Percoco had helped organize it.
Later in the month, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, held a ceremony at the Garden in which he signed a bill to legalize professional mixed martial arts. It is a matter in which the Garden has a significant interest, in part because the arena is set to host New York’s first fight. There, too, working the event on the Garden’s behalf, was Mr. Percoco.
That night, as Mr. Cuomo made his way through the Brooklyn Democratic presidential debate’s “spin room,” he was surrounded by a small group of aides who helped protect the governor and fend off reporters. Among them was Mr. Percoco, who stood watch as Mr. Cuomo conducted interviews. The others, aside from the governor’s daughter, were members of Mr. Cuomo’s executive-chamber staff.
The result is that, according to Albany observers, Mr. Percoco has operated simultaneously as an executive in the private sector and, effectively, as an aide to the governor, including on matters of interest to Mr. Percoco’s current employer.
How different was Percoco's role with Cuomo from January up until yesterday when the governor threw him under the bus after the Lovett report?
Not much different than when he was officially working for Cuomo reports Orden:
The role he has played for Mr. Cuomo in the past few months appears similar to the position he occupied in his administration, where for years he served as the governor’s political enforcer. He courted or admonished surrogates or others relevant to Mr. Cuomo’s affairs, managed events and handled more pedestrian matters, such as protecting the governor from reporters and others at parades.
That Cuomo threw Percoco under the bus so quickly yesterday is an interesting thing in light of Orden's Wall Street Journal report that Joe was as close as ever with Andy despite having officially left his job working for the governor.
What will U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara make of the Cuomo/Percoco relationship, particularly the post-government employ part of it?
I bet Andy's worrying about that exact thing:
His dual roles, say government watchdogs and public-officers-law experts, merit scrutiny for Mr. Percoco’s potential ability to exert undue influence with Mr. Cuomo on behalf of the Garden.
“If he is an employee in the private sector, he should not be involved in managing the public affairs of the governor,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a civic group. “His primary, arguably sole responsibility is to that of Madison Square Garden, and it becomes blurred when you see the close relationship continue in the way that it was when he was employed by the governor’s office.”
An even trickier—and permanent—restriction for Mr. Percoco is that he can’t “appear, practice, communicate or otherwise render services” on anything on which he worked directly while in the governor’s office. As one of Mr. Cuomo’s closest advisers, he had his hands in a variety of matters.
“If he talks to the governor and hangs out with the governor and brings up interests of the Garden…the lobbying, so to speak, doesn’t have to be formal,” said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor. “It doesn’t matter if he whispers in the governor’s ear or submits a formal brief, either one is within this language.”
The purpose of the law, he added, “is to prevent former officials from having, and from appearing to have, an advantage when they represent private interests before their former colleagues.”
Earlier today I wondered just what damaging information Percoco might have that he could use to lighten the legal load against him if Bharara decides to bring charges.
When I wrote that, I wasn't aware of the Orden piece in the WSJ that makes it sound as if Percoco never really left the governor's employ.
In light of the information from the Orden piece, I would bet Percoco has got lots of interesting things he could say to the feds, including some incidents/events/conversations that have transpired in recent months - you know, the ones since January when Percoco was supposedly no longer working for the governor.
Whether he tells those stories or not, well, that depends upon how strong a case Bharara's got against him currently and whether it makes sense for Joe to tell tales on his "brother" Andy.
But things sure have gotten interesting very quickly in Cuomoland - I wonder how much time Andy's giving this weekend to finding a ready primary opponent for his"friend" Bill de Blasio now that Cuomo's got his own scandal headlines to worry about?