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Editorial: Stop the spin on Moreland probe

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces his appointment for

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces his appointment for the Moreland Commission to investigate the State Legislature at Hofstra University Club in Hempstead on July 2, 2013. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

At first, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, was investigating whether the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo improperly interfered with a state commission probing the culture of corruption in Albany. Now Bharara is warning team Cuomo not to interfere with his investigation of that investigation -- or he'll investigate that, too.

That's a lot of talking about who's talking. And that's a problem.

In the past week, Cuomo has sought to counter a detailed report in The New York Times that said the governor's office hobbled the work of a commission he created, promised would be independent, but shut down before its work was done. On Monday, Cuomo held a news conference in Buffalo to refute claims that he meddled with the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption and to dismiss any suggestions of wrongdoing. His remarks came hours after one of the panel's co-chairs, William Fitzpatrick, the Republican district attorney of Syracuse, issued a statement saying there was no interference.

That in turn prompted Bharara to send a letter to the attorney for the Moreland Commission complaining about contacts with panel members and sternly warning against attempts to influence witnesses.

Cuomo Thursday defended efforts to get members of the panel to speak out on his behalf as simply a way to correct what he claims were inaccurate news reports. In the short statement, Cuomo said he won't comment any further. "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," he said.

Cuomo's statement is inartful, but if he means his administration won't contact Moreland members or ask them to speak publicly about the commission's work, that's the right message.

But Bharara and his office have a responsibility, too, and that's to resist the lure of the spotlight that gets nourished by leaks.