Bharara To State Lawmakers: Stop Whining And Take Action
As the state Legislature convened for the first day of the 2016 session, the man who has been chiefly responsible for changing its leadership — and striking a chord of fear in lawmakers’ in the process — was in Kentucky.
There, before state lawmakers in the Bluegrass State, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was urging them to not follow their counterpart’s example in New York.
“What has been going on in New York government of late is simultaneously heart-breaking, head-scratching and comic,” he said. “This is a moment that calls for more than talk because there has been a lot of enabling of corruption up there. I hate to say it, but it’s true.”
The prosecutor, who in back-to-back cases won the convictions of former Speaker Sheldon Silver and the ex-Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, called on lawmakers to, in essence, provide a dose of peer pressure.
“It’s not for me to really lecture a room full of elected leaders, a subpoena-wielding prosecutor from up north,” Bharara said. “You know your oath, you know your duty, you know your privileged position. I just have a fairly simply point to make this morning: If you want to prevent corruption, don’t enable it. If you want to deter corrupt members, don’t become their willing accomplices.”
He added: “It is not just the corrupt actors that bear responsibility, but every enabler too.”
Bharara’s remarks in Kentucky come after what he described as a “season of prosecutions” and a “political corruption extravaganza” at the state Capitol in Albany.
He quoted transcripts from the Skelos case, in which his son Adam Skelos complained that it was like “f-ing Preet Bharara is listening to every phone call.”
“Well, we were listening to that call, too — as it turned out,” Bharara quipped.
New York’s state government “has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickback and rancid culture.”
“This never gets quoted in New York when I talk about corruption: There are countless honorable and ethical people serving in elected office and in every other political body in the country,” he said.
But Bharara reserved the majority of his scorn in his address for state lawmakers who have derided his prosecutorial efforts as an effort to paint state lawmakers with a broad brush of corruption.
“Blaming the prosecutors is not leadership,” Bharara said. “Kicking the can is not leadership. Accepting lies and half-truths is not leadership. Making excuses is not leadership. Whining is not leadership.”
Those who have criticized him are akin to “blaming firefighters for the fire.”
Lawmakers were non-committal and non-specific on what ethics reforms may be taken up in the new legislative session, which runs through June.
Good-government reform groups — NYPIRG, Common Cause and Citizens Union — rolled out a platform for reform, asking lawmakers sign a pledge committing to closing the LLC loophole in campaign finance law, limiting what lawmakers can earn outside of government work and expanding transparency measures.
“Albany has its Watergate moment now,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner.
Still, it remains to be seen what state lawmakers will or won’t do this session following 2015 being upended by the arrests of their top leadership.
“Make no mistake – over the coming weeks, discussions around proposals on ethics will be a priority of this house,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “The Assembly is serious about ethics reform and we know that words are not enough.”
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, meanwhile, pointing measures the Republican-led chamber has already approved.
“We should not apologize for the fact that we have chosen a noble profession for being involved in public service,” Flanagan said in his opening remarks of the session, “and I think we need to stand up for the traditions of the Senate in particular and speak proudly about this institution and the good things we actually do.”
Bharara, however, doesn’t appear to be in a mood to wait.
“This is a moment that calls for more than talk because there has been a lot of enabling of corruption up there,” Bharara said. “I hate to say it, but it’s true.”
WATCH Bharara’s entire speech here.
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