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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Moreland Commission emails put Cuomo in awkward position

Cuomo speaks at a news conference in Manhattan

Cuomo speaks at a news conference in Manhattan on June 2, 2014. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The accusatory finger has a funny way of swinging from one target to another.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been saying his Moreland Commission on public corruption was intended all along to prod lawmakers to approve reform measures. But early on, Cuomo publicly called the panel independent -- and even asserted that its highly touted commissioners and staffers could examine the governor and attorney general if they wished.

Some politicians get in trouble by believing their own press releases. In this case, however, some Moreland appointees apparently chose to believe they were on their own -- and began firing off subpoenas at will.

Now there's a trail of emails and leaks that place Cuomo, through his micromanaging top aide, Larry Schwartz, in the awkward position of having explicitly directed the panel away from issuing subpoenas to a major real estate lobbying group as well as an ad firm Cuomo used.

And now a 13-page reply by Cuomo to New York Times questions, published online last week, puts his once-trumpeted commission in an unflattering light just as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara reviews its dissolution.

This reply says Schwartz had to advise this panel, which "did not understand the budget or legislative process or how state government worked . . . Remember the Commission was being attacked by the legislature for being a political tool of the governor on a fishing expedition, and sending subpoenas with no logic or basis (which was often true). The court was holding up numerous subpoenas the Commission had sent.

"The Commission had serious staff problems and factions. The Commission was factionalized and leaking to the press continuously. The Commission needed help. The credibility of the Commission was being destroyed in the press weekly."

In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's backroom efforts to destroy ex-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno famously backfired. Last July Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) warned the Moreland panel would carry out "a witch hunt" of lawmakers and hold Cuomo harmless. Cuomo replied: "It's an independent commission that will investigate whatever they believe needs to be investigated."

Now, however, Cuomo & Co. are saying: "A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive. It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test."

The question becomes: Who gets the last laugh?


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