Cuomo limits Moreland answers, defers to Bharara

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Preet Bharara. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
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ALBANY—Governor Andrew Cuomo declined to offer substantive answers at a press conference today to questions about the now-defunct Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, saying that the matter is in the hands of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Bharara is investigating Cuomo's handling of the commission, among other things, and last week suggested that he is also looking into the orchestration of supportive public statements from people who served as commissioners. 

“The U.S. attorney in New York City is now looking into the operation of the commission and I think that should be respected and I don't think public dialogue on the matter is helpful right now and we’ll let him do his work,” Cuomo told reporters in Canandaigua at an unrelated event.

Asked whether he had been asked to speak with Bharara regarding his decision to disband the commission early, Cuomo, who is up for re-election in November, said, "No I have not, but I have told all of my people, anything he wants to know, everybody should cooperate."

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When asked why he felt inclined to hire an outside attorney for the executive chamber, Cuomo said, "There's a lot going back and forth and we needed one."

Cuomo will be paying for the defense attorney with funds from his $35 million campaign war chest. (This practice is at odds with a legislative push by a group of Democratic state senators to make it illegal for politicians to use campaign funds to pay for civil or criminal defense lawyers.)

"It could be paid for by taxpayer dollars, government dollars—I actually didn't want the taxpayers to pay for it, so I said I'd pay for it by the campaign," Cuomo said when asked if it was appropriate to use campaign money for an attorney. "But it's a valid government expense."

When pressed about Democratic legislation to ban the practice, sponsored by Senator Ted O'Brien of Rochester, Cuomo told reporters that O'Brien's legislation wouldn't apply to the Moreland situation, and then said he's "not familiar with the bill."

Cuomo took just over three minutes' worth of questions on Tuesday regarding the commission, but provided few answers.

"Public dialogue, which we’ve had plenty of, isn't especially helpful at this time," Cuomo reiterated.

Bharara issued Cuomo a warning last week after a Cuomo aide solicited public statements of support from some members of the commission, suggesting that such orchestration could amount to witness tampering. 

Pressed on whether contacting members of the commission could be witness tampering, Cuomo said, "Let him do his work, and we’ll have a public dialogue thereafter."