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New York governor says he was fixing errors amid reported federal probe

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, reportedly threatened with a possible federal probe of witness tampering, said on Thursday he reached out to "relevant parties" only to correct errors in news reports about his disbanding an anticorruption commission.

Cuomo said in a statement that he was aware of a letter sent by Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District, which the New York Times said included a threat to investigate the Cuomo administration for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering, amid its broader probe into the governor's disbanding of the Moreland Commission.

Bharara has been investigating the panel's shutdown and pursuing its unfinished corruption cases.

The Times reported last week that Cuomo's office meddled with the commission, which he created last year to root out corruption in state politics.

In the letter, prosecutors alluded to public statements made by panel members earlier this week in which they defended Cuomo's handling of the commission, and said at least some of the statements were prompted by requests by the governor or people acting on his behalf, the Times said.

"We have reason to believe a number of commissioners recently have been contacted about the commission's work, and some commissioners have been asked to issue public statements characterizing events and facts regarding the commission's operation," prosecutors wrote, according to the letter which was read to the Times and which Reuters could not independently confirm.

"To the extent anyone attempts to influence or tamper with a witness's recollection of events relevant to our investigation, including the recollection of a commissioner or one of the commission's employees, we request that you advise our office immediately, as we must consider whether such actions constitute obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses that violate federal law," the prosecutors wrote.

In a statement emailed on Thursday afternoon, Cuomo said last week's Times report "generated a wave of news reports across the state, some with numerous inaccuracies, and we wanted to correct them. We discussed these concerns with relevant parties."

As a result, the statement said, "several members of the Commission (District Attorneys and a law school dean) issued personal statements to correct the public record. These statements reiterated comments they had made over the past year."

Cuomo declined further comment, noting that the "U.S. Attorney has made it clear that ongoing public dialogue is not helpful to his investigation."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The bipartisan Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, more commonly known as the Moreland Commission, was established after the state capital was plagued by a series of scandals involving lawmakers.

It was meant to investigate violations of campaign finance laws and other ethics matters but was hobbled almost from the start by demands from the governor's office, despite a public promise of independence, the Times reported last week.

Within a year, it was disbanded by Cuomo, who had initially indicated it would operate for about 18 months.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Eric Beech)

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