Governor Cuomo’s big headache over the Moreland Commission, his shuttered anti-corruption panel, is not getting better. Following the New York Times’ giant front-page exposé about interference from the governor’s staff any time the commission got too close to Cuomo or his political allies, a few members of the panel have come forward to say — contra their own quotes in the Times’ detailed reporting — that actually, Cuomo’s office didn’t butt in at all. The potential problem, legally speaking, is that Cuomo may have asked them to say that.
“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,” said a letter from Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office to a lawyer from the panel, that pesky New York Times reports. “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.”
According to the Times, “At least some of” the public statements from commission members in support of Cuomo this week “were prompted by calls from the governor or his emissaries.”
While the bubbling scandal is not sexy or catchy enough to put Cuomo in a Chris Christie–like spot, there are other, potentially bigger consequences than bad press and public perception, as Chris Smith wrote on Intelligencer last week:
More worrisome for Cuomo is that he seems to have made an enemy who possesses his own legal weapons. When the Times asked the governor about Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for Manhattan, following up on the Moreland Commission’s work, the response was that “it would be inappropriate for us to comment.” Chances are that Bharara will want more complete answers, whether written or under oath.
Bharara confirmed as much in yesterday’s letter: “the commissioners and the commission’s employees are important witnesses in this ongoing investigation, and information from those with personal knowledge of facts of the investigation is highly material to that investigation.” Consider that the warning shot.