As I posted a couple of days ago, the criminal investigation into Bill de Blasio's campaign fundraising appears to be politically motivated, stemming from a "report" written up by a Cuomo appointee at the Board of Elections, Risa Sugarman, that claimed felonious activities in Team de Blasio's 2014 attempts to take the state Senate for Democrats.
Capital NY reported that Cuomo's Luca Brasi, Joe Percoco, was part of that ill-fated attempt by Team de Blasio to coordinate fundraising efforts and help Democratic state Senate candidates around New York win their individual races.
Percoco, Cuomo's "closest and most loyal aide," according to the NY Daily News' Ken Lovett, of course fed back information about the coordinated campaign fundraising efforts to his boss, Andrew Cuomo, and while Cuomo appears to have taken little-to-no action at the time of the efforts, skeptics now see his hand behind Sugarman's BOE report alleging criminal activity by Team de Blasio and subsequent referral of those allegations to Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
News of that damning BOE "report" was leaked to Ken Lovett at the NY Daily News.
Vance and Bharara have subpoenaed many in de Blasio's circle, including his top aides, while Percoco does not appear to have received a subpoena in the investigation despite being a part of the fundraising effort.
That has raised the thought among cynics like myself that the Sugarman "report" was spurred by Cuomo, aided by information (and perhaps testimony) from Percoco, then leaked by somebody close to Cuomo to the press, all with the intent to irrevocably harm his "friend," Bill de Blasio, with whom he has been feuding for a few years now.
So far, it's been pretty successful.
The NY Post has pictured de Blasio in an orange jump suit on its front cover while the Daily News has hammered de Blasio daily for alleged corruption and malfeasance.
A Team De Blasio campaign lawyer blasted the Sugarman report over the weekend, claiming it was a political hit job and completely misconstrued (or misunderstood) campaign finance law and de Blasio followed that up on Monday by publicly questioning the motivation behind the leak of the report.
De Blasio continued that defense on WNYC today:
ALBANY -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday defended his fundraising efforts to help upstate Democratic Senate candidates in 2014 and questioned the motivation behind the state Board of Elections probe.
De Blasio’s team is under fire for using the county committees in Ulster, Putnam and Monroe counties to pump more money into the Senate candidates' elections.
"Everything was done very carefully, meticulously, with legal guidance – all along the way and consistent with what so many other people have done," de Blasio said on WNYC-AM in Manhattan. "That’s why I’m saying: It’s very interesting that now it becomes subject of these questions, and I think we have to figure out some of the motivations behind this."Federal and state prosecutors are investigating a report from state Board of Elections chief enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman that charged de Blasio and his team skirted campaign-finance laws by getting donors to contribute to the county committees. Then the committees sent the money directly to four candidates who ultimately lost: then-Sens. Ted O'Brien of Irondequoit, Monroe County; Terry Gipson of Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, and Cecilia Tkaczyk of Schenectady County, as well as Justin Wagner, an attorney from Croton, Westchester County.In all, more than $1 million in total contributions from New York City-based unions and political donors went to the three county committees in the weeks prior to the 2014 elections.Sugarman is a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been in a public battle with de Blasio over myriad issues between the city and the state.De Blasio stopped short of pointing the finger at Cuomo over the election probe."I think people should dig into this question," de Blasio said. "I think they should ask the question of how does a state Board of Elections official single us out, apparently not understanding how state election law works, and then leaked their document to the media – which in and of itself may be a violation of law. I think that needs to be looked at. I find it telling."Cuomo has not commented about the election probe.
Other observers have noted the selectivity of the criminal referral, pointing out how other politicians use similar tactics to the ones Team De Blasio used in 2014 (like former NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg in various bids to aid his state Senate Republican allies, for example.)
In any event, de Blasio is the one facing the firestorm in the press, which is an interesting thing, because it all just sort popped up out of nowhere over the past two weeks, almost as if it were engineered by somebody with a grievance against the mayor.
Gee, I wonder who that guy with the grievance against the mayor would be?
Funny thing is, this may not be the only criminal investigation that Cuomo is using to settle scores.
The Syracuse paper reported the following this morning:
SYRACUSE, N.Y. Saying he does not intend to assist a "fishing expedition,'' an Onondaga County judge this week delivered a setback to District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and his efforts to investigate alleged wrongdoing at Syracuse City Hall.County Court Judge Walter Hafner Jr. blocked Fitzpatrick's subpoena for emails, notes, drafts and other communications produced by Syracuse city lawyers, saying the DA made "no showing'' that the documents were part of any crime or fraud.Hafner's decision was contained in a sealed order issued Tuesday, a copy of which was reviewed by Syracuse.com.Fitzpatrick said he will submit a motion asking the judge to reconsider, and will appeal the decision if Hafner continues to block the subpoena.The district attorney, who criticized Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner for bringing a lawsuit against COR Development Co., the Inner Harbor developer, has launched an investigation into Miner and some of her political allies.Among other things, Fitzpatrick is looking for evidence of alleged wrongdoing connected with what he called "phony affidavits'' filed in the lawsuit by two city councilors who are friendly with Miner.
But in his ruling to decide what documents city hall must turn over, Hafner said Fitzpatrick has not produced evidence of wrongdoing to justify his demand to see communications between city lawyers and other city officials. Most of those records are protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege, the judge wrote.In response to the district attorney's request that Hafner review all the city hall materials privately to determine whether any should be forwarded to the grand jury, Hafner called that proposal "patently absurd.''"It is not . . . the function of this court to assist the district attorney in a fishing expedition,'' Hafner wrote."
Fitzpatrick is an old Cuomo crony, having worked as an apologist for the governor on the Moreland Commission. State of Politics has a little more on the Cuomo-Fitzpatrick connection here.
Miner, on the other hand, used to be friendly with Cuomo, having worked as the co-chair of the state Democratic Party, but has been on the outs with Cuomo since she publicly criticized him over policy.
So it certainly is interesting to see a Cuomo crony and apologist like Fitzpatrick go on what a judge just described as a "fishing expedition" to see what he can unearth around a real estate development gone bad to use against a Cuomo enemy, Stephanie Miner.
Does this constitute a pattern of Cuomo's using the criminal justice system to punish enemies?
Perhaps not a pattern, but certainly it gives an observer reason for pause.
Or, as Arsenio Hall used to say, "Things that make you go 'Hmmmm...'"
The other instance I can think of where a Cuomo enemy may have been punished via criminal investigation came as the former head of PEF, Susan Kent, publicly called for a primary candidate to challenge Andrew Cuomo, then supported Zephyr Teachout when the Fordham law professor announced a run.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of Manhattan is investigating a former Public Employees Federation council leader who was accused of using a union debit card to run up thousands of dollars in questionable purchases at stores and restaurants.
The investigation, which is being led by the U.S. Department of Labor, was revealed last month when a federal grand jury subpoena was sent to the Rockland County PEF union formerly headed by Deborah J. Lee, whose purchases first drew scrutiny within her union's ranks two years ago.
The probe by Bharara's office comes as first-term PEF President Susan Kent, who faced criticism for her handling of Lee's case, is running for re-election to the top post in the state's second-largest public labor union.
Lee, 65, was cleared of wrongdoing last year by a union ethics panel appointed by Kent. The internal review rankled many PEF executive board members who accused Kent of appointing political allies to the ethics panel. The decision was later overturned by PEF's executive board, which voted to remove Lee from their union for at least three years.
Susan Kent lost a re-election bid and no longer runs PEF.
The man who beat her, Wayne Spence, has adopted a more conciliatory tone toward Cuomo.
Now I'm not an expert on PEF internal politics and I'm certainly not out to defend Deborah Lee for improper purchases on her expense account.
Nor am I saying Cuomo was definitely behind the Lee matter and the internecine battles that caused within PEF.
I just think it's interesting that Kent, after a publicly hostile contract battle with Cuomo and subsequent support of a primary challenger against him, got mired in this ethics investigation that helped to bring her down and bring into power a union head more friendly to the governor.
It surely is interesting how some of Cuomo enemies either face criminal investigations themselves or have criminal investigations of people around them that undercut their power.
De Blasio for sure, Miner almost for sure, Kent perhaps...
And of course the whole idea behind empaneling the Moreland Commission was to dig up dirt on his fellow Albany pols, then use it against them to get what he wanted out of them.
No wonder Michael Mulgrew and the UFT bend over backwards to remain on good terms with Cuomo (and yet nonetheless check the office for bugs just in case.)
You don't want to end up on Cuomo's shit list because the next thing you know, the people around you are getting subpoenas and somebody's leaking damaging information about you to the press.