Tim Wu: Moreland meddling broke state laws

tim-wu-moreland-meddling-broke-state-laws
Tim Wu. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

ALBANY—Columbia University Law Professor and lieutenant governor candidate Tim Wu told reporters on a conference call Wednesday afternoon that members of Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration may have violated four different state criminal laws by interfering with the operations of an ethics commission.

Wu is running alongside former Howard Dean aide Zephyr Teachout in a longshot bid to defeat Cuomo and his running mate, Kathy Hochul.

Wu said the interference by Cuomo's aides, which reportedly included discouraging subpoenas to Cuomo-connected parties, constitutes probable cause for indictments related to four different state statutes: criminal solicitation of official misconduct, conspiracy to perform official misconduct, obstructing governmental administration and hindering prosecution.

The Moreland case is “not unlike a classic ticket fixing ethics problem,” Wu said, comparing the scandal to government officials asking police officers to make traffic tickets disappear as favors to friends and family.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

“That’s kind of the thing we have here,” Wu said, describing the Moreland offenses this way: “not a Grade-A felony, but it is illegal, and should be remedied by the state.”

Wu, an expert in state criminal law, said he was shocked by silence from statewide officials and lawmakers on the Moreland scandal, and called on those with power to open criminal investigations into Cuomo’s conduct to do so.

“We’re in the somewhat absurd position where the only sense of accountability in our system is coming from the press and the federal prosecutor,” Wu said.

He expressed dismay that press reports about Cuomo’s meddling in the commission’s work had largely focused on the investigation by Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, though legal experts disagree as to whether the conduct described by the Times’ would constitute a federal crime, such as obstruction of justice or witness tampering.

The state attorney general’s office has the power to bring an indictment against individuals in the executive branch, but the attorney general must have a referral, typically from the state police (whose commissioner is appointed by Cuomo).

“The fact is, the state does have ample tools for investigating what’s happened with the commission,” Wu said, adding, “it should be state actors who investigate any potential crimes committed by the governor’s staff.”

For example, district attorneys, such as Albany County D.A. David Soares, “have full jurisdiction to investigate all the crimes described” by the Times report, Wu said. 

“I think it’s surprising considering the clear potential violations of state law that we haven’t heard from anyone, haven’t heard of any rumblings of investigations,” Wu said.

(Soares was a member of the commission and sent a suggestive email to its co-chair soliciting referrals from the commission.)

Wu said state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, an independently-elected official, could provide a referral for Schneiderman too.

“We haven’t heard from any of these actors or the attorney general,” he said. “If this was Congress you’d immediately have hearings. It’s been somewhat shocking to me that there’s been no hearings.”

“When you had the Chris Christie bridge-closure email disclosures, there were no less than three or four investigations immediately launched," he said. “And in New York State I think the contrast is really stark, you can argue over which is the worse scandal but the fact there’s silence from all the statewide officers and the Assembly and the Senate, the fact we haven’t seen any of the people who are actually in power, in state government talking about this is, to my mind shocking.”