NEW YORK – Preet Bharara, New York’s top federal prosecutor, is rejecting claims by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that a federal review of corruption investigations has muzzled the governor’s office.
In an MSNBC interview airing Tuesday, Bharara says Cuomo’s assertion that he cannot discuss the ongoing investigation is simply not true. “People are able to exercise their public role in the way that they see fit,” Bharara says. “I don’t think I, or anyone else, has ever said that any particular person shouldn’t be talking about how he or she made decisions publicly,” he added.
Cuomo set up a commission to investigate political corruption in New York, the Moreland Commission, and then disbanded it in March 2014. Bharara seized its files and began a review of its closure, setting off a clash between two of the most powerful Democrats in New York.Last summer, Bharara confronted the Cuomo administration over its efforts to contact potential witnesses. Cuomo responded by saying he would no longer discuss the closure of the commission, given the investigation. “As I believe the U.S. attorney has made it clear that ongoing public dialogue is not helpful to his investigation,” Cuomo said in July, “we will have no additional comment on the matter.”
Asked directly about that statement, Bharara says it is not true that the governor is restricted from commenting. “I don’t think that’s true because I’ve heard comments that have been attributed to the governor,” Bharara told MSNBC. “So, you know, how he wants to interpret what he can and cannot say is up to him.”
In late January, Bharara indicted New York Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges, an issue that the Moreland Commission was investigating before the governor shut it down. The complaint against Silver states that Cuomo “agreed to end” the commission in exchange for the legislature passing campaign finance reforms.
Bharara tells MSNBC, however, that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that arrangement. The complaint cited the deal to end the commission “by way of background,” Bharara says, noting that some evidence against Silver came about “because we took the files of the Moreland Commission.”
In the interview, Bharara also declined to address reports that he is investigating New York Majority Leader Dean Skelos. “I’m not gonna get into investigations that we may be doing at the moment and who we’re investigating,” he says. “But as I’ve said before – and will say again here to you – we have a number of investigations going on. And we’ve had them for a long time.” Bharara added, “It doesn’t seem like business will be abating any time soon in the public corruption department.”
Speaking about political culture more broadly, Bharara noted that “There are a lot of people who go into public service and are in for the right reasons and to do the right thing.” Still, he says legislators “are more likely to be arrested as a state senator in New York than you are to be turned out at the polls. And when you have a degree of corruption that is that deep and pervasive and frequent,” he says, “that’s a big problem.”
In the interview, which will air on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday, Bharara also discusses his work on prison reform and his relationship with his former boss, Sen. Chuck Schumer. In Part 2 of the interview, which will air Thursday at 3 p.m. ET, Bharara discusses his Wall Street prosecutions, insider trading, al Qaeda, ISIS and questions about his future.