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In smacking Cuomo panel's demise, Bharara gains more notice

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara occupies a widely-watched post

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara occupies a widely-watched post that is insulated from state politicians. (Credit: Bryan Smith)

Last week's verbal smack at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for agreeing to disband a state anti-corruption commission could resound for some time.

Predecessors of Bharara have used the high-powered post in the Southern District of New York to launch historic elected careers, namely ex-Gov. Thomas Dewey, ex-Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Bharara, a former key aide to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, has downplayed but never ruled out such a future for himself.

"If you begin investigations and you begin them with great fanfare," Bharara said of the Cuomo commission, "you don't, I think, unceremoniously take them off the table without causing questions to be asked."

One perk of Democrat Bharara's current job is, he's immune from political payback for saying this. In his position, Cuomo -- or more precisely, the Albany he inhabits -- is often saddled by the foibles of elected lawmakers with whom he must deal but who keep joining the ranks of Bharara's defendants.

The latest Moreland Act commission, which has turned over records at Bharara's request, was seen all along as a temporary measure to prod actions that could be later hailed as deodorizing the Capitol. Maybe the hype surrounding its inception set up disappointment for those who chose to believe earthshaking revelations or transformations would blossom.

Bharara's remarks echo others' complaints that the commission closed with a whimper. Of course, any legislation requires action by the Senate and Assembly. And Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) were challenging commission subpoenas in court. Trade-offs happen.

Bharara's remarks are helping color local campaign rhetoric. The panel's former co-chair, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice -- now running for Congress -- drew Moreland-related shots from primary rival Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and Republicans, which she called mudslinging.

Legislation enacted in the state budget included a pilot program for public campaign financing affecting only the comptroller's race. Bharara's criticisms follow that of Democratic Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli -- who rejects the pilot as a bad plan.

The commission may close, but Bharara's office remains in business.

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