ALBANY - U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday for shutting down a Moreland Commission panel to root out public corruption in state government in exchange for an ethics package adopted in the state budget last week.
Bharara has seized the documents of the panel and didn't rule out investigating Cuomo for allegedly interfering with the commission's work.
"I'm not going to prejudge what we'll be looking at, what we'll be investigating and where the faces will lead," Bharara, who heads the Southern District federal court, said on WNYC-FM.
"We are going to look at the documents, we're going to see what the facts are and if there are questions that are appropriate to ask, as I think the public knows by now, there are strong willed and aggressive but fair people in my office who will ask those questions," Bharara continued.
Governor Cuomo was in Buffalo on Thursday to speak about the state budget, but his staff said he would not be taking questions from the media due to a 'tight schedule'.
Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to disband the commission last month in exchange for an ethics package that includes tougher campaign-finance enforcement at the state Board of Elections, public financing for the comptroller's office and stronger bribery laws.
Cuomo formed the Moreland Commission last July after he couldn't get an ethics deal with the Legislature. The commission was in a legal battle with lawmakers after it issued subpoenas to find out more details about legislators' outside incomes.
Cuomo defended the decision to end the panel, saying it was always meant to be a temporary initiative. Its authority was set to expire in January, but it could have been extended.
"It was a temporary commission. It was never a permanent commission," Cuomo told the Democrat and Chronicle editorial board in Rochester.
Bharara, who has prosecuted a number of the major public-corruption cases in New York, said the work of the panel—which includes a number of the state's district attorneys—should continue. He wrote two letters to the panel in recent days, first questioning its decision to drop its investigations and then secondly to thank them for giving up the documents to him.
He said investigators were headed to the Moreland Commission's offices Thursday to pick up the information.
"From where I sit, when you begin something, you finish it – particularly when you are telling everybody you are going to finish it," Bharara said. "And if you begin investigations and you begin with great fanfare, you don't, I think, unceremoniously take them off the table without causing questions to be asked."
He said without the follow-up, the investigations that are underway could languish. And he said it could take years for an investigation to produce a result.
"In a world where public corruption remains a serious problem and there are investigations that have begun, they should be finished," Bharara said.
As the Moreland Commission shuts down, it wrote a letter back to Bharara on Thursday and defended its work, saying possible criminal findings have been forwarded to prosecutors.
"Several referrals have already been made to federal and state prosecutors," the commission's co-chairs wrote.
Cuomo said that if people want a permanent commission on investigations, "That would be different. That's not what I set up. I set up a temporary commission to pass the legislation that's duration was commensurate with the legislation being passed, which it was."