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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his first comments since he was accused in a press report of improper meddling in a corruption commission on Monday declared the commission a “phenomenal success.”
Cuomo denied interfering with the Moreland Commission he created in July 2013 and which focused on the State Legislature, rather than the governor’s office.
Following months of press reports, The New York Times reported Wednesday that Cuomo and his to top aide, Lawrence Schwartz, dissuaded the commission from subpoenaing one of Cuomo’s top donors, The Real Estate Board of New York; and the TV ad production company Cuomo uses.
At a Buffalo event to announce new jobs, Cuomo relied heavily on comments by commission co-Chairman William Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney, and the statement he released Monday.
Cuomo said Fitzpatrick “didn’t find any reason” to investigate Cuomo or his allies, “but I could have.” The governor said Fitzpatrick’s comment was proof there was no interference.
"Frankly, for those who do not know me well, that suggestion is absurd," Fitzpatrick wrote. He said the governor offered only “advice and encouragement.”
Cuomo insists the commission made all the decisions on subpoenas and whom to target, although a probe of the governor could be considered a conflict of interest for the commission because Cuomo created it.
“Conversation and dialogue is good,” Cuomo said Monday, defending his contact with the commission. “Independence doesn’t mean you get holed up in an ivory tower and don’t talk to anyone ... so of course there were conversations. It would be unintelligent for them not to be.”
Cuomo reaffirmed his recent comments that his whole intent of creating the commission was to get the Legislature to agree to ethics reforms they rejected a year ago. He abruptly ended the commission this year when the Legislature agreed, although good-government advocates found the measures weak.
“It passed a law that has cleaned up Albany more than any law passed in the history of this state,” Cuomo said.
The New York Times reported emails and interviews that Schwartz advised Fitzpatrick against subpoenas of targets close to Cuomo.
“When you take snippets of conversation in a dialogue you should really know where it winds up,” Cuomo told reporters. He noted that Fitzpatrick said he himself decided not to issue some subpoenas based on legal judgment, and issued some subpoenas despite Schwartz’s objections.
“Follow the move to the conclusion,” Cuomo said. “What happens at the end of the movie? Fitz says, ‘I disagree with you Larry, we’re not going to do that.’ Is the name of that movie ‘Interference’ or is the name of that movie ‘Independence’? You named it ‘Interference.’ ”