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Tension between Cuomo, AG over jurisdiction

ALBANY -- Cracking down on public corruption was a major theme of last year's election, but Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says he was rebuffed by the Cuomo administration when he sought to expand his office's jurisdiction in the area.

Schneiderman, a former state senator, was one of several candidates who pledged during his 2010 campaign to ask the governor to expand the attorney general's jurisdiction to more generally cover state agencies and the legislature. One possible legal avenue -- so far untested -- would be the governor's "blanket referral" for such cases, conferred by executive order.

"We have raised the issue, but have thus far not been successful," Schneiderman told the Times Union's editorial board this month.

Nothing has formally been exchanged in writing, and Schneiderman's aides declined to be more specific about the negotiations.

But a former top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo denies Schneiderman ever made the request -- a side dispute that illustrates tensions between the current governor and the man who replaced him at the attorney general's office.

One source familiar with the matter said Neal Kwatra, Schneiderman's chief of staff, raised the issue in late January and early February with Steven Cohen, Cuomo's top aide during his four years as attorney general and the first six months of his gubernatorial administration. Cohen is now in private practice.

Another Schneiderman emissary raised the issue with Cohen in November 2010. According to a source familiar with that meeting, Jennifer Cunningham, Schneiderman's campaign manager and ex-wife, discussed a range of issues, including the idea of delegating authority.

Cohen denied ever speaking about the issue with either Cunningham or Kwatra.

"We never had conversations about or were asked for a blanket referral, which is not surprising given that it would have violated the law," Cohen said.

As attorney general, Cuomo pushed to expand the office's purview with new legislation, which would require action in the Senate and Assembly. His spokesman Josh Vlasto reiterated Cohen's second point, that the executive order would be unlawful.

"The Times Union refuses to acknowledge . . . that we have always taken the position, whether as attorney general or as governor, that legislative oversight requires a change of the law," Vlasto said.

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