BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) During his first public appearance since a revealing report by the New York Times, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke about the Moreland Commission.
In July 2013, the governor stood at the University at Buffalo and praised the commission that was created under the Moreland Act. It was given the power to subpoena and examine witnesses under oath. Cuomo said he hoped the Moreland Commission’s reforms would restore the public’s trust in government.
But during a three-month investigation, the Times discovered the governor’s office compromised the commission’s work. Cuomo apparently objected whenever the commission focused on groups or issues close to him.
Monday, Cuomo stopped just short of entirely refuting the Times’ article. He said the Moreland Commission was a great success.
The whole goal, he says, was to get an ethics reform bill established and instituted. He says the Moreland Commission can still do independent investigations if they saw fit and that it balked at his administration’s suggestions.
The governor says the commission was made mostly of lawmakers, and the state doesn’t need another law enforcement panel that would suck money from the state taxpayers.
He insists he did not interfere with the commission. Cuomo said his staffers may have given advice to people on the Moreland Commission, but he and his staff did not interfere.
“The best evidence of independence is when someone from the second floor says, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ The chairman says, ‘Let me think about.’ And then the chairman says, ‘I disagree, I don’t want to do that.’ That’s not a sign of interference. That is demonstrable proof of independence.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino says Cuomo is being “tone deaf” to call the Moreland Commission a “phenomenal success.” He says his opponent’s administration is built on lies and fraud.
“[A phenomenal success?] For who? For the people who were being investigated because now they got away with it? For the governor they were getting too close to him but he was able to cut it off? Is that what he meant by phenomenal success? I’m not sure. We’ve got a very watered-down ethics laws and yet the problem persists,” Astorino said.
Cuomo’s primary opponent, Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, has also criticized Cuomo’s handling of the commission.
But Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita was a member of the Moreland Commission and says anyone on the commission would have resigned had they not been able to conduct fair and impartial investigations. He released the following statement on Monday:
“Thirteen months ago, the Office of the Governor called upon me to be on the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. I understood our core mission to be two-fold: to recommend anti-corruption reforms and to investigate elected officials suspected of corruption. I also understood that should the credible evidence uncover criminal wrongdoing, we would make referrals for criminal prosecution to the appropriate agencies.
“In the summer of 2013, rumors began to circulate that members of the Governor’s Office sought to veto the issuance of subpoenas for those with political ties to him. Although we recognized our statutory duty to regularly report to the Governor and to the Attorney General, we would not stand for any interference, and discussed a number of options, including resignation. The Governor’s Office, through our commission chairs, agreed not to interfere with our work. No one, to my knowledge, threatened to resign.
“The Moreland Commission is defunded and its investigative material has been forwarded to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. In light of a reported federal investigation, I believe it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this time.”