ALBANY -- After a federal prosecutor is said to have warned a state corruption commission to report "any attempts to tamper with a witness," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo confirmed Thursday that he had talked with "relevant parties" to correct what he called false claims that he had interfered with the panel.
"We have reason to believe a number of commissioners recently have been contacted about the commission's work, and some commissioners have been asked to issue public statements characterizing events and facts regarding the commission's operation," stated a letter by Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, as reported by The New York Times.
"To the extent anyone attempts to influence or tamper with a witness's recollection of events relevant to our investigation, including the recollection of a commissioner or one of the commission's employees, we request that you advise our office immediately, as we must consider whether such actions constitute obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses that violate federal law," the letter said.
The reported letter came three days after some members of the Moreland Commission on public corruption publicly defended the governor's role, in response to a Times article last week that said Cuomo's top aide tried to dissuade the commission from issuing subpoenas to a top campaign donor and to the TV production company used by Cuomo's campaign. Cuomo has denied that he interfered with the panel, adding that his administration only provided advice.
In a written statement Thursday, Cuomo said, "The New York Times published a story last week that generated a wave of news reports across the state, some with numerous inaccuracies, and we wanted to correct them. We discussed these concerns with relevant parties. Several members of the commission (district attorneys and a law school dean) issued personal statements to correct the public record . . .
"As I believe the U.S. Attorney has made it clear that ongoing public dialogue is not helpful to his investigation, we will have no additional comment on the matter," Cuomo said.
Cuomo had shut down the panel in March in the midst of several investigations into the State Legislature when he struck a deal with lawmakers on ethics reforms. Those cases have been turned over to Bharara.
Cuomo hired well-known criminal defense lawyer Elkan Abramowitz to represent the governor's office in the U.S. attorney's probe, Abramowitz confirmed Thursday.
"I'm substituting for Mylan Denerstein, who is counsel to the governor, because she is a potential witness," Abramowitz said.
He noted he was retained "a while ago," but declined to go into further details.
In Mastic Beach Thursday, Cuomo's Republican opponent Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, said, "This investigation has widened. The letter proves he's directly under investigation." He added: "The governor knows full well he was obstructing the investigation."
With David Schwartz
and Yancey Roy