There is now another parallel between Cuomo and Nixon - the cover-up is the thing that got Nixon in Watergate and now it may be the final nail in Cuomo's political coffin as well:
Cuomo, who runs a state that leads the nation in federal public corruption convictions, is being informally scrutinized, and may soon be officially investigated, by the U.S. Attorney for witness tampering and obstruction of justice. He’s essentially being accused of strong-arming members of a state investigative panel that was originally formed — wait for it — to stamp out corruption in the state.
It dates back to spring of 2013, when no less than six New York lawmakers were arrested — not investigated, but physically arrested — on suspicion of bribing party officials for ballot access. In response to the subsequent uproar, Cuomo formed a special type of New York investigative body called a Moreland Commission to root out corruption amongst state legislators. However, as was later reported, the governor’s office routinely interfered with investigations that came too close to the governor, and Cuomo shut down the commission entirely after nine months.
That would be a sufficient scandal, but there’s more. The U.S. Attorney in New York, Preet Bharara, launched an investigation. A number of the commission’s members rose to Cuomo’s defense, and there’s now suspicion that the governor may have illegally coerced the commission’s members to wage those defenses. Put differently, Cuomo is being accused of forcing people to do something, then forcing them to say that he never forced them to do it.
While it’s nowhere near as explosive, the scandal has whiffs of Watergate. In addition to the fact that Cuomo looks vaguely like Richard Nixon, it involves a cover-up that could ultimately prove more damaging than the initial transgression. In remarks quite reminiscent of Nixon’s famous proclamation that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” Cuomo brashly defended his involvement in the commission work:
It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow…it’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.But second allegation would amount to tampering with a federal investigation, since Bharara was already looking into commission’s activities. In preparation for what could be a very lengthy legal battle, Cuomo has hired criminal defense attorney Elkan Abramowitz to represent him.
I think the phrase that sums up Cuomo's governorship as well as his parallels to Nixon comes down to:
"When the governor does it, that means it's not illegal."
Yeah, Cuomo didn't actually say those words, but surely that's what he meant when he said "I can't interfere with it (the Moreland Commission), because it is mine. It is controlled by me."
Same goes for when he had his Luca Brasi, Joseph Percoco, "offer" to help some Moreland Commissioners draft statements of support for him this past week that he could use in his public defense of his handling of the Moreland Commission.
And the same goes for when he had his former secretary, Larry Schwartz, order the commission to pull back subpoenas to entities connected to him like REBNY and Buying Time because he feared what might be found by investigators.
When the governor does it, it's not a crime.
Now we'll have to see Preet Bharara agrees.
From the public statements Bharara has made and the warning he made about witness tampering and obstruction charges if Cuomo continues to interfere with the investigation, it does not seem he does agree.