ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday defended the work of the now-disbanded Moreland Commission, saying the anti-corruption panel demonstrated "total independence" despite claims to the contrary.
Cuomo was in Buffalo for an economic-development announcement and afterward took questions from reporters for more than 35 minutes, with most focused on his office's role in temporarily holding back subpoenas from the Moreland Commission that were headed for Cuomo allies.
The Democratic governor pointed to a statement Monday morning from Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, the Moreland panel's co-chair. In the statement, Fitzpatrick acknowledged directing the Moreland Commission to withdraw a subpoena for a Cuomo-allied entity after a conversation with top Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz. But he said the commission nevertheless sent the subpoena out three weeks later.
Cuomo said that is proof of the Moreland Commission's independence.
"The best evidence of independence is when someone from the (governor's office) says, 'Well, why don't you do this?'" Cuomo said Monday. "And the chairman thinks about it and says, 'I disagree. I don't want to do that.' That's not a sign of independence. That is demonstrable proof of independence."
Later, Cuomo continued: "That's not proof of interference. It's proof of the exact opposite. It's total independence."
Cuomo's office last week rebuffed the suggestion the Moreland Commission was independent, despite Cuomo's initial promise last year that it would be. In a 13-page, unsigned statement last week to The New York Times, Cuomo's office repeatedly said the commission wasn't independent of his office, nor could it be.
The governor first launched the Moreland Commission—a 25-member panel of district attorneys and law-enforcement experts—last year, with the broad charge of investigating public-corruption in any corner of state government. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman deputized many of the panel's members as a way to give them broader investigatory powers.
But Cuomo abruptly disbanded the panel in late March, after state lawmakers agreed to tougher anti-bribery laws and the creation of a more-independent enforcer of the state's election laws.
Last week, The New York Times published a lengthy investigation into the commission's work, which found top Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz sought to have the panel curtail subpoenas to the Real Estate Board of New York—a major Cuomo ally—and Buying Time LLC, which counts Cuomo's campaign among its clients.
On Monday, Cuomo said the Moreland Commission was a "phenomenal success."
"It generated all sorts of interest in the behavior of the Legislature, it brought all sorts of cases that have actually come to fruition, and it was I believe the stimulus to get the ethics-reform bill passed that we got passed," Cuomo said. "And the ethics-reform bill is great."