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Prosecutor won't rule out investigating Cuomo over Moreland Commission

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen here delivering his

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen here delivering his annual State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany on Jan. 8, 2014. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

A federal attorney on Thursday wouldn’t rule out investigating whether Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo or his aides improperly intervened with activities undertaken by the governor’s recently shuttered anti-corruption commission.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, in a radio interview, questioned the disbanding of Cuomo’s Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, informally known as the Moreland Commission, as part of a deal with state legislators to beef up enforcement at the state Board of Elections. Bharara said the commission will turn over all its documents to his office.

The federal prosecutor, who like Cuomo is a Democrat, indicated he was troubled by reports of interference in the commission’s actions.

“I don’t know what the facts are,” Bharara said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “What I can tell you is that it’s impossible to overstate the importance of independence on the part of any investigative body.”

Bharara said the governor created the panel “with great fanfare,” shuttered it “unceremoniously” and “thinking people wonder why that happened and want to get to the bottom of it.”

In two letters to the commission, the prosecutors asked it to “preserve all documents that may be under your control” – including emails. His office expects to receive the Moreland Commission files this week.

“We’re going to look at the documents,” Bharara said in the interview. “We’re going to see what the facts are, and if there are questions that are appropriate to ask … my office will ask those questions.”

Asked directly whether he could rule out investigating Cuomo’s office, the prosecutor said: “I’m not going to prejudge what we’ll be looking at.”

The Cuomo administration didn’t immediately comment.

Last year, Bharara’s investigations of state legislators helped spark the creation of the commission. After the prosecutor indicted or convicted several lawmakers, Cuomo pushed for an ethics legislation package. Failing to reach a deal with legislators, the governor formed the commission last summer.

Among other actions, the panel subpoenaed five high-profile developers, sources said last year. Last fall, watchdog groups reported that the Real Estate Board of New York, an influential lobby, contributed about $2 million to Cuomo and hundreds of thousands of dollars to state senators. Published reports said that the Cuomo administration weighed in on the panel’s look at REBNY.

The commission, also last fall, acknowledged that it checked in with the governor’s office weekly. Cuomo at the time denied that he or his staff directed the commission. The governor’s work schedules show that he met with commission chairs – including Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice – on consecutive days in September. Rice stepped down from the commission prior to announcing a run for Congress.

State Republican Chairman Ed Cox, who last year called the commission a “fishing expedition,” blasted Cuomo.

"From the start, Andrew Cuomo's meddling with his Moreland Commission corrupted his own corruption commission and doomed it to failure,” Cox said in a statement.

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