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Skelos warns against 'witch hunt'

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) in

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) in Albany. (April 23, 2013) (Credit: AP )

ALBANY -- The Legislature's top Republican warned Monday that an investigative panel soon to be launched by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should not become a "witch hunt" against state legislators.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) went as far as to say he hoped the Moreland Commission that Cuomo is poised to announce hasn't reached conclusions before it's even started. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice is expected to be named one of the co-chairs of the commission, a source said.

Cuomo promised to invoke the Moreland Act to establish a panel to investigate compliance with state election laws, including campaign finance, after the Legislature closed the 2013 session without acting on a plan that, among other things, would have given the governor power to appoint an election-law investigator. Cuomo said the inquiry is needed to restore trust in government after a string of indictments and convictions of state legislators.

The panel doesn't have the power to prosecute but can make recommendations. On "The Capitol Pressroom," a public radio program, Skelos made note of that while tossing in a reference to Cuomo's push for control and the governor's deep campaign coffers.

"They will make recommendations," Skelos said, referring to the panel. "Hopefully, the governor has not already written those recommendations."

Skelos continued: "If this is just aimed at the Legislature, I think that would be inappropriate. The governor runs for office, too. He's raised close to $30 million. He had a fundraiser at The Plaza, where tickets were [as much as] $50,000 a head. I think everyone should be cautious. . . . To be a witch hunt, I think would be totally inappropriate."

Cuomo, at a Manhattan news conference announcing tougher laws against texting and driving, said the elections-law investigation would be about "restoring the public trust."

"I think that trust has been shaken," Cuomo said, referring to the scandals. "What this investigation is going to be about is restoring that trust."

The governor didn't address Skelos' remarks. He said the panel, expected to be announced last week, will include "the best law-enforcement minds" in the state. He maintained that the panel's credentials will tell the public "you should trust the government because you actually have the best that are policing the government."

Tags: Andrew Cuomo , Dean Skelos

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