Cuomo: Moreland interaction, not ‘interference’

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Andrew Cuomo. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
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ALBANY—In his first public appearance since a New York Times report revived questions about how the Cuomo administration interacted with the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his aides never crossed the line between offering advice and directing its actions.

The governor also called the commission a “phenomenal success” for drawing interest to unseemly behavior and prompting legal changes earlier this year, including tougher enforcement at the State Board of Elections and a pilot program for public campaign finance.

In over 20 minutes of back-and-forth with reporters, Cuomo leaned heavily on a statement this morning from Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, the now-defunct commission's co-chair.

“By its definition, the commission took advice and opinion from many, many people. … No one ever said they shouldn't be talking to people or get advice and consultation from people,” Cuomo told reporters. “They should be independent, and the co-chair, today, says, 'I was 100 percent independent. I made the decisions.'”

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“It's called conversation and advice,” Cuomo said of conversations about subpoenas between his top aide, Larry Schwartz, and commission leaders. "Interference is different. Interference says their independence was trumped by the second floor. That is false.”

Cuomo said he disbanded the commission because it had runs its course, and there was no need for “another expensive prosecutor's office” in New York. Evidence could be followed by others.

“The Moreland Commission was a vehicle to get the law passed. We got the law,” Cuomo said.

The governor did grow testy when asked by a Times reporter about an email expressing concern about the administration's influence. He again referred to Fitzpatrick.

"If you had watched the movie to the end, the name of the movie would have been 'Independence,'" Cuomo told Times reporter Thomas Kaplan. "You named it 'Interference.'"

Cuomo's remarks came five days after the Times article and a 13-page response by the administration that, contrary to earlier claims, said the Moreland Commission was never meant to be independent.

Cuomo's political rivals have attacked his silence, and national-level media outlets have mocked the governor's seeming reversal.