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Bharara: Elections won't affect timing of Moreland probe

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a Crain's New York Business Business Breakfast Forum at the New York Athletic Club Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara indicated Tuesday that the coming November elections will have no bearing on his timetable for investigation into cases inherited from the disbanded Moreland Commission.

"We're working on them in our own time and not according to anyone else's political timetable or schedule," he said at a breakfast forum in midtown Manhattan.

The anti-corruption panel launched by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and disbanded in April has served as ammunition for Republican challenger Rob Astorino with five weeks to go until the election.

Bharara is probing possible interference with Moreland's work by Cuomo aides and has warned that "attempts to influence" commission members or employees could amount to tampering with witnesses. That admonition came when some members, after speaking with Cuomo's office, defended the governor's role.

The prosecutor, at a forum hosted by Crain's New York Business, was asked about the accuracy of an Astorino-sponsored ad that says Cuomo is under federal investigation for corruption, witness tampering and obstruction of justice and "may end up in jail."

Bharara declined to dissect it, but said: "I do find it interesting that a lot of people try to use the work done by my office -- or the work that they presume my office is doing, because most of it is kept under wraps -- for their own purposes," he said. "I think a lot of people would prefer that politicians just let us do our work."

Bharara also demurred on whether he was interested in the U.S. attorney general post to be vacated soon by Eric Holder, joking that his "proud Indian mother" had reached out to newspapers to put him on short lists.

"I've told my mom to stop calling them," he said. "I'm very happy, and I'm doing my job, and that's all I'm going to say."

Bharara said Holder's successor should focus on national security, cyber threats and civil rights -- the same priorities as Bharara's office.

He wouldn't detail the discussions with Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration on the Rikers Island jail complex, found in Bharara's investigation to brutally mistreat adolescent inmates. He did say it was "encouraging" that de Blasio has proposed reforms such as the elimination of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds.

"But there's more that needs to be done," Bharara said. The prosecutor said he is committed to imposing enduring change whether the city volunteers it or legal action forces it.

The prosecutor spoke extensively on changing cultures of corruption in government, banking institutions and even the NFL by lionizing whistleblowers rather than shaming them internally.

"It's this human concern that if I come forward, then my career is over and no one is going to sit with me at lunch," he said.

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