Preet Bharara

SUNY Poly Responds To Investigations

Following reports that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has expanded his investigation of state government to SUNY Polytechnic and the “Buffalo Billion” economic development program, the school in a statement said none of its employees are the “target of any investigation.”

SUNY Polytechnic’s statement, issued by spokesman Jerry Gretzinger, touted the impact of the Buffalo economic development drive itself.

“The facts are clear: The Buffalo Billion will result in nearly 14,000 good paying and sustainable jobs in Western New York, $8 billion in new private investment and has changed the path of Buffalo now and for generations to come,” he said. ‎”We are confident that all processes regarding SUNY Poly projects in Buffalo were done appropriately. To our knowledge, neither SUNY Poly nor any of its employees are the target of any investigation.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, earlier in the day downplayed the significance of any subpoenas being issued by Bharara’s office.

“You can have investigations,” Cuomo said. “That does not mean there’s any there there or that anyone has done anything wrong. It doesn’t mean that because there’s an investigation there’s anything wrong.”

U.S. Attorney To Investigate Death At Fishkill Correctional

prisonU.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office will investigate the April death of an inmate at Fishill Correctional Facility, his office said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon.

In the statement, Bharara said his office will be coordinating with the Dutchess County district attorney, William Grady, to investigate the death of Samuel Harrell.

Harrell’s death was ruled a homicide, allegedly at the hands of guards at the state prison.

“My Office has been in communication with the office of Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady, and we will be coordinating and working with his office to investigate the April 21, 2015 death of Samuel Harrell, an inmate at Fishkill Correctional Facility,” Bharara said in the statement.

The federal investigation comes after the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision on Tuesday named a new superintendent at the facility, Robert Cunningham, after the removal of William Connolly.

Judge ‘Troubled’ By Bharara’s Silver Remarks

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon’s effort to have his corruption indictment tossed from federal court was denied on Friday by a U.S. district court judge.

But in the same order, Judge Valerie Caproni took U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to task for comments made in the wake of Silver’s arrest that were critical both of the state’s political system and Albany lawmakers.

Silver’s attorneys had sought the longtime former speaker’s case dismissed following the Manhattan Democrat’s indictment on fraud and corruption charges stemming from allegations that he masked bribes as legal referrals.

Silver remains a rank-and-file member of the chamber after losing the speaker’s post to Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie.

In the wake of Silver’s arrest, Bharara would criticize Albany’s penchant for secrecy, the spate of corruption arrests involving state lawmakers and the budget process.

A motion to dismiss the case from Silver’s legal team cited Bharara’s comments as potentially be prejudicial for potential jury members in an upcoming trial.

While Caproni tossed the dismissal motion, she added in the ruling that Bharara wasn’t without fault.

“In particular, the Court is troubled by remarks by the U.S. Attorney that appeared to bundle together unproven allegations regarding the Defendant with broader commentary on corruption and a lack of transparency in certain aspects of New York State politics,” she wrote.

It’s a rare public rebuke for Bharara, who has become infamous in state political circles for his prosecution of state political leaders as well as his investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to close the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption following an agreement on ethics reform measures.

Bharara has been criticized by some lawmakers for his ability to generate press stemming from his corruption arrests and what some consider to be remarks critical of Albany’s governance that are inappropriate for a prosecutor to make.

In one forum, Bharara mocked the so-called “three-men-in-a-room” negotiations for the state budget — which Silver took part in while speaker — and compared the process to a sitcom.

Caproni, in her dismissal, wrote that such comments cannot be “magically dispelled by sprinkling the words “allege(d)” or “allegation(s)” liberally throughout the press conference or speech, or by inserting a disclaimer that the accused is “innocent unless and until proven guilty” at the end of an otherwise improper press release.”

Still, despite the admonition, Caproni dismissed more narrow concerns raised by Silver’s lawyers including the claim the U.S. attorney’s office tipping off The New York Times in advance of the January arrest finding “little merit” in the claim that could he swayed potential jurors.

Silveropinionandorder (1) by Nick Reisman

Bharara’s Office Knocks Silver’s Efforts To Dismiss Case

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s efforts to have his corruption case tossed should be denied, federal prosecutors argued in a filing Thursday, saying the Manhattan Democrat’s claims that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara sought to prejudice jurors was a “calculated effort to malign him” and mislead the public.

Silver was indicted last month on charges of fraud and extortion stemming from accusations that he masked nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks as legal referrals.

Silver’s attorneys moved to have the case tossed, citing Bharara’s comments about public corruption in Albany and his criticism of state government as a sign that he was seeking to unduly influence potential jurors in the upcoming corruption trial.

But Bharara’s office contends Silver’s attorneys sought to take quotations out of context and “distorts the facts surrounding his arrest.”

“In truth, the U.S. Attorney’s public statements related to this case and to public corruption matters more broadly have been entirely proper and in accordance with the rules of this Court, the guidelines of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), and the New York Rules of Professional Conduct,” federal prosecutors wrote in court filings. “The defendant has suffered no unfair prejudice warranting relief of any kind.”

Silver resigned as Assembly speaker, a post he’s held since 1994, following his arrest in January. He retains his seat in the chamber.

Silver Motion Response.pdf by Nick Reisman

Schumer Avoids Talking About Bharara

From the Morning Memo:

As some state lawmakers begin to question corruption-busting U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s tactics, his former boss is continuing to not weigh in.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer on Monday declined to offer his assessment of Bharara or respond to the criticism from some lawmakers, who complained to The Daily News that the prosecutor has a tendency to grandstand and humiliate the Legislature by painting the whole body as rife with corruption.

At the same time, legislators have questioned whether it’s appropriate for Bharara to criticize how Albany does business through the three-men-in-a-room budget negotiations.

But Schumer, a former state assemblyman before being elected to the House, isn’t among those clamoring to criticize the federal prosecutor.

“He worked for me for five years,” Schumer said during a stop in Batavia, noting that he recommended Bharara for the job initially.

“The day he got into office we made a policy that I would not comment on him or his cases. I’ve kept it and I’m going to keep with it,” Schumer added.

Bharara in January made his most high-profile arrest, charging now former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver with accepting bribes and kickbacks.

Bharara: Cuomo Can Talk About Moreland Probe

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a television interview with MSNBC airing this week that Gov. Andrew Cuomo can talk about the federal government’s probe into the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption.

“People are able to exercise their public role in the way they see fit. They are allowed to exercise their first amendment rights,” Bharara said.

Cuomo closed the anti-corruption last year following an agreement on ethics legislation in the state budget, but Bharara’s office took control of the records generated by the panel.

Bharara is also probing the circumstances of why the subpoena-empowered commission closed and the level of involvement by the governor’s office.

Cuomo in the summer said the “public dialogue” around the commission is not helpful to the U.S. attorney, saying that he would no longer comment on the case as a result.

The statement came after commission members released statements — seemingly at the behest of the Cuomo administration — insisting there was no interference. The U.S. attorney’s office in a letter asked the governor’s office to stop.

“Several members of the Commission (District Attorneys and a law school dean) issued personal statements to correct the public record,” Cuomo said at the time. “These statements reiterated comments they had made over the past year. As I believe the U.S. Attorney has made it clear that ongoing public dialogue is not helpful to his investigation, we will have no additional comment on the matter.”

Bharara today said this does not preclude Cuomo from taking questions about the case.

“I think it’s natural people are asking questions about it,” he said. “So, there’s nothing wrong with asking questions about it.”

He added, “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.”

Asked whether he put a gag on Cuomo to discuss the case, Bharara said, “I don’t think that’s true, because I’ve heard comments that have been attributed to the governor. So, you know, how he wants to interpret what he can and cannot say is up to him. And you can direct those questions elsewhere.”

Cuomo has said as recently as October that the Moreland case is in the U.S. attorney’s lap at this point and that his discussion of it publicly is “not helpful.”

“The U.S. attorney in New York City is now looking into the operation of the commission and I think that should be respected and I don’t think public dialogue on the matter is helpful right now and we’ll let him do his work,” Cuomo said at the time.

Bharara Blasts ‘Three Men In A Room’

A day after his office charged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver with five counts of corruption and fraud, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara mocked the power structure that Silver has been a part of for the last 21 years.

“When did 20 million New Yorkers agree to be ruled by a triumvirate in Roman times?” Bharara asked at a breakfast held by the New York Law School on Friday morning.

Bharara likened the “three-men-in-a-room” to a sitcom.

“Coming up after ‘Happy Days,’ it’s ‘Three Men in a Room,'” Bharara said.

Bharara’s office has made a point of prosecuting elected officials in the past, but Silver is perhaps the biggest fish he has ever sought to reel in.

As usual, Bharara said it was up to voters, as well as the press, to “demand more” from elected officials in positions of power.

“It’s up to voters and it’s up to people to get angry,” Bharara said. “People need to demand more. It’s enough to just be fed up.”

But he added this time that with Silver’s mounting legal troubles, the very system Albany runs on of having in essence the two top leaders in the Legislature, plus the governor, decide things strikes him as problematic.

“It seems to me, if you’re one of the three men in the room, and you have all the power, and you always have, and everyone knows it, you don’t tolerate dissent because you don’t have to,” Bharara said. “You don’t tolerate debate, because you don’t have to. You don’t favor change or foster reform, because you don’t have to, and because the status quo always benefits you.”

Silver’s arrest comes as lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepare to negotiate a $141.6 billion budget proposal made this week.

“That at least one of the proverbial three men in a room is deeply compromised, how can we possibly trust that anything gets decided in Albany and is imposed on the rest of us is on the level?” Bharara asked.

He added that Silver’s arrest could provide a catalyst for reform.

“This can finally be a turning point for reform,” he said. “If there ever was a moment for true reform, it’s now.”

Bharara: ‘You’re Assuming There’s One Investigation’

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara would not give a timetable on Wednesday as to when his office would complete its investigation of the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption and whether the governor’s office interfered in the panel’s work.

“We have some of the smartest people in law enforcement continuing that work,” he said.

Bharara also hinted there are multiple focuses when it comes to the inquiry into the commission’s work.

“You’re assuming there’s one investigation,” Bharara said in an interview with Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom this morning.

Bharara’s office in April took control of the records generated by the commission, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed following an agreement on ethics legislation with state lawmakers in the 2014-15 state budget.

Cuomo has defended his decision to shut down the subpoena-empowered commission, saying that it was always meant to exact a degree of leverage over lawmakers in order to trigger an ethics agreement.

But the governor’s handling the commission has come under scrutiny. Reports revealed that Cuomo’s office sought to direct or block subpoenas away from politically sensitive areas.

The interview with Susan Arbetter comes at a curious time.

Cuomo is set to debate his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, this evening on public television in Buffalo, along with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Michael McDermott. Both Astorino and Hawkins are expected to bring up the controversy surrounding the Moreland Commission’s demise as well as the governor’s interference.

Arbetter, on Twitter, noted she had been trying to land an interview with Bharara for months and the timing was coincidental.

Bharara would not comment if he believes using an anti-corruption commission as a tool for passing legislation constitutes a crime.

Nevertheless, Bharara said any panel charged with going after public corruption should have a long shelf life and a degree of autonomy.

“Generally speaking, when you’re trying to solve a problem, you need some amount of longevity and you need the core of that institution is independence,” he said.

As he often does in interviews, Bharara criticized the culture of Albany and state government, including allowing lawmakers to received “unfettered outside income” which he said is “recipe for what we have in NY which is a little bit of a corruption disaster.”

He added the “precious little disclosure” allows public officials to take outside money from entities that have business before the state.

Bharara, asked whether he sees a connection between the Wall Street criminals he’s prosecuted and politicians, said there is a similarity.

“I have joked that sometimes it seems like Albany is at the intersection of ambition and greed,” he said.

Hochul Says Her Husband Is Staying Put

Kathy Hochul is hoping voters will send her to Albany as New York’s next Lieutenant Governor.  But she’s hoping her husband, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, stays right where he is.

“I like having him closer to home with me here, selfishly speaking.  But Bill’s doing a tremendous job I’m very proud of his work,” Hochul said.

With Eric Holder leaving the Attorney General’s Office, William Hochul’s name has been thrown around as a possible replacement.  Hochul joined the U.S. Attorney’s office as an assistant in the Western District in 1991.

He was promoted to U.S. Attorney in 2010.  While Hochul’s name has been brought up to head to Washington his wife says it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere.

“I think he’s very happy doing what he’s doing right here in Western New York he’s got 17 counties a lot of responsibility and I know he’s proud of the work he’s doing on behalf of the Government so I think he’ll stay right where he is,” Hochul added.

Hochul isn’t the only US Attorney out of New York whose name is reportedly under consideration.  US Attorney Preet Bharara, out of Manhattan, is being considered a possible successor as well.

Preet’s Embarrassment Campaign?

ICYMI, this was Item I from today’s Morning Memo:

There’s some fascinating stuff at the very bottom of today’s Wall Street Journal story on the latest in the Moreland mess, which offers some insight into what US Attorney Preet Bharara hopes to get out of this quest.

Consider the following:

“Mr. Bharara’s probe into the actions of the Cuomo administration with respect to interfering with the commission, dissolving it and the aftermath of that decision is now a top focus of prosecutors, according to people familiar with the probe.

“While it is unclear whether he could make a criminal case on that front, Mr. Bharara views the enterprise as a victory even if it doesn’t ultimately lead to charges against anyone in the administration, according to a person briefed on the investigation.”

“If his office brings one case that the Moreland Commission failed to refer for prosecution, the investigation will be worth it, the person said.”

There has been considerable speculation about what – if anything – Bharara might actually charge the governor, or anyone connected to him, with in connection with the administration’s interference with the now-defunct commission.

The governor’s efforts after the New York Times story to solicit supportive statements from former commission members while Bharara’s investigation was ongoing gave the US attorney some fuel. Bharara responded by warning the governor – in a letter that quickly leaked – against witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

But even those possible charges seem a little weak when you consider the enormity of the fallout if the US attorney actually charged a top gubernatorial aide, or, worse yet, the governor himself – especially this close to the fall elections.

Now, if the person “briefed” on Bharara’s investigation and sharing insights with the WSJ is to be believed, it appears the US attorney will be satisfied with merely having embarrassed the governor – especially if his office manages to bring some charges against a lawmaker or two that the commission declined to pursue, perhaps, as this story suggests, at the administration’s request.

This a rather dangerous and high-stakes game that Bharara is pursuing, as New York magazine’s Chris Smith pointed out this week.

“Given the governor’s muscular public-relations efforts, Bharara has little choice but to push back hard in public,” Smith wrote.

“Maybe the publicity-friendly strategy is also because Bharara suspects he won’t have the facts to send anyone to jail – and that to truly change the culture of state government, punishment is less effective than embarrassment, anyway.”

“But by so overtly confronting Andrew Cuomo, Preet Bharara is taking a risk, too: He has raised expectations that he’s going to deliver something more than another exposé of the Albany sausage-making machinery.”

And not only that, but Bharara has undoubtedly earned himself a very powerful enemy for a very long time.

Despite Moreland and its fallout (at least what we’ve seen to date) no one (except maybe Rob Astorino and Zephyr Teachout) really believes Cuomo is in danger of losing his re-election bid this fall.

So, the governor will return to office to deal with the Legislature in a brave new, post-Moreland world, which – thanks to Bharara – seems to have reduced the governor’s so-called “fear factor” somewhat and emboldened lawmakers just a tad.

Cuomo can’t possibly be happy about that. And if he’s looking for someone to blame, he won’t have to look much further than Lower Manhattan. Now, you could argue that Cuomo can’t do anything to hurt Bharara, who is a presidential appointee. And that is part of the reason why the US attorney is engaged in this crusade.

But who knows what Bharara’s next move will be? The political life is long and filled with many acts, downfalls and comebacks.

Perhaps no one is more aware of that fact than Cuomo himself.