And then a little-known matter that occurred before the election, the closing of three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, blew up into a pretty big scandal, with at least four Christie cronies losing their jobs over the matter and with Christie now facing a widening federal investigation into his politicization of Sandy aid, potential conflicts of interest at the Port Authority and the original Bridgegate allegations that opened Christie up to scrutiny in the first place.
Back in New York State, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo also seems to be on top of the world these days, having just shoved through a fourth on-time state budget that he was able to use to punish political enemies and reward political allies and sitting on a campaign war chest that all but ensures his re-election this November.
But under the surface of all that good stuff for Cuomo lies the rot that is political corruption in Albany, rot that Cuomo himself decided to take on by convening the Moreland Commission to investigate legislative malfeasance and criminality.
Rumor had it that the governor's office was very involved in just what the Moreland Commission could and couldn't investigate, with the intereference getting so bad that one of the commission chairs eventually resigned from the Moreland Commission.
Cuomo had been using the Moreland Commission investigations to threaten members of the legislature to do what he wanted around a host of issues, including ethics reform and public financing of campaigns, but announced right after the this year's budget deal that all was so swell with the ethics reforms agreed upon by the Senate, Assembly and Cuomo himself in the budget that the Moreland Commission would be disbanded because it was no longer needed.
That didn't sit well with some good government types who felt Cuomo was sweeping the investigations under the rug for his own politically expedient reasons, but Sheriff Andy would brook none of that criticism, saying Moreland had done its work and now its time was over.
Enter the US attorney for the Southern District of New York:
Less than two weeks after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo abruptly shut down a commission he had formed to investigate political corruption in New York State, the United States attorney in Manhattan is sharply questioning the governor’s decision and is taking possession of all of the panel’s case files, according to letters sent to the commission’s members on April 3 and again on Wednesday afternoon.The move by the United States attorney, Preet Bharara, amounted to an unusual rebuke of Mr. Cuomo, a former prosecutor himself, who swept into office four years ago promising to clean up what many have called a culture of corruption in Albany.
Mr. Cuomo created the panel, the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, in July, with great fanfare and a broad mandate to restore public trust in government. But watchdog groups raised concerns about the panel’s credibility after reports about interference by the governor’s office, which leaned on the commission to limit the scope of its investigations, influence which subpoenas it would issue, and in some cases, stop the commission from issuing subpoenas to groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo.On March 29, Mr. Cuomo announced that as part of budget negotiations between his office and the Legislature, the panel, more commonly known as the Moreland Commission, was being disbanded.
Five days later, Mr. Bharara sent the commission’s chairmen and top officials a letter saying he was “disappointed to learn” of the commission’s “premature end,” acknowledging that its work was “aggressive, active and ongoing,” but incomplete, and calling its shutdown “difficult to understand.”In the letter sent April 3, Mr. Bharara asked the chairmen and the commission’s staff — all of whom were appointed by the governor — whether Mr. Cuomo had abandoned his commitment to fight corruption for a short-term political gain.“The sequence of these events gives the appearance, although I am sure this is not the intent, that investigations potentially significant to the public interest have been bargained away as part of the negotiated arrangement between legislative and executive leaders,” he wrote.Mr. Bharara requested that commissioners and staff members preserve the panel’s investigative files.On Wednesday, in a letter addressed to the 24 members of the commission, Mr. Bharara reported that the panel’s chairmen — William J. Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney, and Milton L. Williams Jr., a former state and federal prosecutor in Manhattan — had agreed to turn over the files.
The sudden turn of events raised the possibility that Mr. Cuomo’s dealings with the commission, which once seemed likely to burnish his reputation as a reformer, could now become an embarrassment for the governor.
Actually if Cuomo bargained away "investigations potentially significant to the public interest" as part of a "negotiated arrangement between legislative and executive leaders," then Cuomo has opened himself up to a potential criminal investigation for quid pro quo dealings.
As I like to say, I'm not a lawyer, but common sense tells me there's a problem if the governor knowingly negotiated away ongoing criminal investigations involving legislative members for, say, expended charter school protections in NYC or the so-called ethics reform deal he made with the legislature.
In addition, with so many rumors flying that Cuomo put the kibbosh on any investigations into his own donors and otherwise interfered with the work of the commission so badly that one of its chairs resigned, Bharara may find evidence that leads to serious problems for members of the Cuomo administration or even for Cuomo himself.
We're a long way from the Moreland Commission turning into Cuomo's Bridgegate, but to be quite frank, I can't imagine that Sheriff Andy is all that happy that Preet Bharara is running around telling radio, TV and newspaper outlets that he wants to know if the governor traded away criminal investigations for negotiated agreements he wanted in the budget deal, nor can he be happy that Bharara is getting his hands on Moreland Commission documents that may show interference by Cuomo's people or Cuomo himself in the workings of the Moreland Commission.
That Bharara happens to be a politically ambitious U.S. attorney who may be looking to make some political bones by taking out a NY State governor (as Cuomo himself did with his investigation of Spitzer when Cuomo was state attorney general) further suggests that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo - Sheriff Andy to we here at Perdido Street School - has got some sleepless nights ahead of him.
As I say, we're a long way from this turning into Cuomo's Bridgegate nightmare, but the potential is certainly there for some very bad things to come out of this for Sheriff Andy and/or his merry men and women in the executive branch.