Did it take Governor Cuomo five days to respond to a bombshell report that he had tampered with an ethics committee because he was coordinating and manipulating a public defense.
U.S. attorney Preet Bharara sure seems to think something isn’t quite right, sending a letter to Cuomo suggesting members of his administration could be charged with witness tampering or obstruction of justice.
Via the New York Times:
In an escalation of the confrontation between the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over the governor’s cancellation of his own anticorruption commission, Mr. Bharara has threatened to investigate the Cuomo administration for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering.
The warning, in a sharply worded letter from Mr. Bharara’s office, came after several members of the panel issued public statements defending the governor’s handling of the panel, known as the Moreland Commission, which Mr. Cuomo created last year with promises of cleaning up corruption in state politics but shut down abruptly in March.
Bharara noted that several members of the Moreland Commission released statements defending the Governor on Monday – the same day he himself finally responded to the scandal.
Stunningly, the Times reports that the coordinated defense of Cuomo was a direct result of phone calls from the Governor and his administration trying to “persuade” committee members to alter their recollections of any interference. One commissioner who received a phone call on behalf of Governor Cuomo declined to make a statement but said he found the call “upsetting.”
As a result Bharara issued the letter stating in part:
We have reason to believe a number of commissioners recently have been contacted about the commission’s work, and some commissioners have been asked to issue public statements characterizing events and facts regarding the commission’s operation.
To the extent anyone attempts to influence or tamper with a witness’s recollection of events relevant to our investigation, including the recollection of a commissioner or one of the commission’s employees, we request that you advise our office immediately, as we must consider whether such actions constitute obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses that violate federal law.
One of the Moreland panel members that made a prominent defense of the Governor, was William J. Fitzpatrick, one of the co-chairs. Fitzpatrick issued a 3-page defense of the group’s independence, which Cuomo then repeatedly cited during his press conference to defend his actions. The Times however, reported that the statement issued by Fitzpatrick “seemed at odds with frustration he had expressed to colleagues last year.”
Cuomo leaned on Fitzpatrick’s statement so heavily, that he re-branded him the “senior co-chair” of the Moreland Commission, a role that clearly never existed but makes Fitzpatrick seem like the more important leader of the bunch, presumably making his defense of the Governor more relevant.
Bharara’s letter urged any commissioners contacted by Cuomo’s office to preserve those contacts, reminding them that “tampering with the recollections of commission members or employees could be a crime.”
Yesterday, Governor Cuomo laughed off a suggestion from his Republican opponent that his administration may have committed crimes saying that it was “entertaining.”
In a radio interview this past April, Bharara refused to rule out an investigation of Cuomo to find out if he improperly interfered with the work of the Moreland Commission.
Now it would seem the U.S. attorney not only has to investigate whether Cuomo interfered with the ethics panel, but he has to investigate whether Cuomo interfered with the response to that interference.