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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver faced more grilling Tuesday over his role in approving the confidential settlement in the Vito Lopez scandal, going back and forth over whether he was the target of investigators.
In February, it became clear that the state ethics panel had centered its investigation on Lopez – who was accused of routinely groping and sexually harassing young female staffers – and not Silver (D-Manhattan) for approving a secret settlement involving two initial complainants.
That’s because, by law, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics must send notification letters to any subject being investigated for possible violation of the state’s public officers law. While Lopez, the former powerful Brooklyn Democrat, received such a letter, his lawyer acknowledged, Silver did not.
JCOPE subsequently found that Lopez violated the law. After Silver threatened to launch expulsion proceedings, Lopez resigned. Silver has been harshly criticized by watchdog groups and Republicans – investigators said the secret settlement was more about shielding the Assembly than the victims. But Democrats have said the long-time speaker should not resign. Silver on Monday apologized and announced new proposals for handling sexual harassment complaints.
Asked Tuesday if JCOPE investigated him for possible violations, Silver essentially said he was investigated but cleared.
“I spent two sessions, totaling somewhere between eight and 10 hours, being interviewed on this matter,” Silver said. “Every member of my staff, members of the Assembly Ethics Committee, were interviewed by JCOPE. We turned over, literally, thousands of pages of documents … I don’t understand how anybody could conclude that there was no determination on that. It was very clear.”
Later, Silver seemed to stumble over the terminology when asked again about being a target of the investigation, this time answering “yes.” Later, his spokesman said the speaker had no knowledge of what JCOPE was authorized to investigate, but said Silver “cooperated fully.”