There is an elephant in the room named Preet Bharara

The biggest story of the year in state politics is what happened to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Act Commission which was supposed to look into corruption in state government. When Cuomo established the Commission he said that it would be independent and would follow the leads no matter where they led. He said that the Commission, made up of outstanding members including several district attorneys, would be free to investigate anyone including the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and the comptroller.

I have written and said many times that Andrew Cuomo is a strategic genius. He’s obviously much smarter than I am. New York has seldom seen such a hard-driving, tough-minded, consumed-by-politics, politician. So, when he established the investigating group which was clearly going to go after some of the most corrupt members of the Legislature, I scratched my unworthy head and wondered what the heck he was doing. If, in fact, he was going after the connection between money and politics he had to know that there would be consequences since he had a well-oiled machine that collected tons of money for the man who most of us believe, has presidential ambitions. Clearly he wanted to win his upcoming gubernatorial election as big as his father Mario had in his second term. To put it mildly, the amount of money that Cuomo has raised for that reelection is obscene. The list of big donors goes on and on. We all know that people give immense amounts of money to politicians because they want something back. It has always been that way. It would be naïve to assume that this isn’t the case with Cuomo who says that he wants to revise the campaign laws to make them fairer.

To make sure that his commission was controllable, Cuomo established it with an executive leader who the Cuomo people trusted. The commissioners truly believed that they would not be hampered in their efforts, but then it turned out that Cuomo’s top aide, Larry Schwartz, a take-no-prisoners kind of tough guy, told the commission that they had been issuing subpoenas to some of the most connected and wrong people. So the subpoenas were called back. Naturally someone called Ken Lovett, one of the best journalists in Albany, of the New York Daily News, who ran with the story. Then the die was cast. The New York Times started an investigation which ended with specifics as only The New York Times can do it. It was a brilliant piece of journalism and it sent shock waves around the state.

When the news broke, Cuomo suggested that since he had established the Moreland Commission, it was his to do with as he wished. His problem, of course, is that is not what he said when he established the Commission.

The big question is whether the whole thing is a fleeting story that made the headlines for a day or two. After all Cuomo is swamping his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, in the polls by an over 35 percent margin. Not only that, it is unclear whether any laws were broken. It may be embarrassing for Cuomo, but most people don’t follow state politics other than cynically believing that “They’re all a bunch of crooks.” Few people know who Astorino is and the bombshell story may turn out to be no more than the couple of days of attention that the story got.

However, and it is a big however, there is an elephant in the room named Preet Bharara, the principled United States Attorney who made no secret of his unhappiness at the way the Moreland Act Commission was disbanded in the middle of its work. He grabbed all the files of the Commission and a lot of people are waiting to see where his investigation leads. If Bharara, who made his political bones working for Chuck Schumer, starts to indict people, or finds wrongdoing, it will make this a whole lot more than a two-day story.

 
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/29/14
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