UPDATE: Sen. Gillibrand ‘very concerned’ by Silver Allegations

Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday weren’t calling on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to resign, but they were not rushing to his defense either.

“My standard has always been that if an elected official is found guilty of committing a serious crime they have lost the privilege to serve,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement. “I am very concerned by these allegations and will let the legal process play out before commenting further.”

Lawmakers called the news of Silver’s arrest “sad” and said it is up to Silver and his colleagues to decide what to do next.

“That is not up to me, that’s his own decision to make.” Rep. Nydia Velazquez told me when asked if Silver should resign. “He has to make that decision based on what he’s facing, and it’s a decision that he will make with his family.”

“I think one is afforded the right of the constitution as innocent until proven guilty,” Rep. Gregory Meeks said. “I think that the body of the assembly will decide what’s best for it. I can’t say what’s best for it. I’m sure that they have met or will be meeting and they’ll decide what’s best.”

The investigation into Silver picked up after Governor Andrew Cuomo abrubtly disbanded his anti-corruption panel, known as the Moreland Commission, last spring

Rep. Kathleen Rice, who was elected in November to Congress, served as co-chair of the panel until January, while she was also serving as Nassau County District Attorney.

“What’s clear here is that the Moreland Commission that Kathleen Rice helped lead engaged in really substantial, important work to help restore the public’s confidence in the integrity of its government,” said Rice’s spokesperson Coleman Lamb. “It’s also clear that the U.S. Attorney’s office is aggressively continuing that work.”

While the arrest was a bombshell, to be sure, on some level, it did not come as a huge surprise to Democrats, given that Silver’s business dealings have long been the source of speculation.

“It’s been a great concern about the outside income and how it was gained,” Rep. Charles Rangel said. “And so I got more calls this morning from members of the assembly asking the same question, where do we go from here. But I really don’t have enough facts to make any political decision until I hear more about what this is about.”

Rangel’s longtime ally Assemblyman Keith Wright has been mentioned as a possible successor to Silver should the longtime Assembly Speaker resign. But the dean of the state’s Congressional delegation wasn’t yet prepared to speculate on whether Silver’s legal troubles might be a boost for his friend.

“I suspect when any leader for one reason or another leaves office, it’s good for whoever has the chance to replace him,” Rangel said. “But this is a bad time to be talking about replacing him when I don’t even know what he’s been charged with.”

Updated: Rep. Steve Israel, late Thursday afternoon, released one of the most critical statements of Washington Democrats:

“New Yorkers deserve to be able to trust those who represent them. This is a sad day for Albany, and an unwelcome disruption from the important work that the State government does to grow the economy and create jobs for New Yorkers.”

IDC Keeps Committee Chairs, O’Mara To Chair EnCon, Griffo To Energy

Members of the Independent Democratic Conference will continue to hold some committee chairs despite the numerical majority held by Senate Republicans in the chamber.

Sen. Diane Savino will be chairwoman of the Banks Committee, Sen. Tony Avella will hold the gavel for the Senate’s Ethics panel and Sen. David Carlucci will be chairman of the Social Services Committee.

Sen. David Valesky will hold a vice chairmanship of the Senate Health Committee, while Avella will also be vice chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee.

“These assignments demonstrate once again the breadth and depth of our conference and the knowledge, passion and expertise that each our members brings to public service,” IDC Leader Jeff Klein said in a statement. “In these new roles, the IDC will continue to serve as a strong, sensible, force for governing in the New York State Senate and most importantly continue to have a positive impact on the lives of thousands more New Yorkers and their families.”

Under the new Senate rules agreed to this month, Klein is no longer the Senate co-president and lost the power to veto which bills come to the floor for a vote.

Still, Republicans are working to keep Klein and his breakaway conference close to the fold in the event their votes are needed.

On the GOP side, Sen. Joe Griffo will take over the Senate Energy committee’s gavel, a job previously held by retired former Sen. George Maziarz. Griffo will also take over Maziarz’s spot as chair of the Senate’s select committe on state and Native American relations.

Sen. Tom O’Mara, a Southern Tier lawmaker and proponent of hydrofracking, will chair the Environmental Conservation Committee, which became open after Sen. Mark Grisanti lost his race against Democrat Marc Panepinto.

Briefly, Silver Addresses His Arrest

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver briefly addressed the press after posting $200,000 bond in federal court in New York City.

“I am happy the issue is being aired in a legal process,” Silver told reporters. “I am confident that when all the answers are aired I will be vindicated.”

Silver is expected to be in Albany on Monday, a regularly scheduled legislative session day.

Silver Released On $200K Bond

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was released on $200,000 Thursday afternoon following a brief appearance in federal court.

Silver, accused of using his position as the powerful speaker of the state Assembly to enrich himself with $6 million in kickbacks and bribes, did not enter a plea.

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23.

He is limited to travel around the U.S. and was required to surrender his passport.

Speaker Silver free on 200k bond. Pre-trial hearing set for Feb 23. No plea entered. His passport was surrendered.

As outlined by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara earlier this afternoon, Silver is accused of receiving referral fees from both real-estate interests and a doctor.

The flow charts Bharara used to explain the case are below:

Sheldon Silver PC Visuals by Nick Reisman

Hochul: Silver’s Arrest Won’t Be A ‘Distraction’

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul insisted on Thursday Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest and corruption charges won’t be a “distraction” from the administration’s agenda.

At the same time, Silver’s legal problems could spur the Legislature to pass a new “reform agenda.”

“I think the circumstances of the last few days are just going to inspire people to want to continue the governor’s ethics reform, the reform he is proposing and I believe there is a very good chance of that occurring,” Hochul said.

Hochul was in Glens Falls earlier today for an economic development announcement. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not making any public appearances today.

Silver, along with the governor and the Seante majority leader, is one of three men who negotiate the state’s budget behind close doors.

For now, Assembly Democrats are sticking with Silver as their leader and have also said the speaker’s arrest won’t lead to complications in passing the budget.

“Certainly, there is a process that is going to work out,” Hochul said. “We are still focused on getting an on-time budget, the governor is very proud of working with the legislature for the past four years to accomplish that, that will continue to be our goal, we are going to get it done.”

The Legislature in the last four years has passed two ethics reform packages in recent years dealing with disclosure, new anti-corruption statutes and the creation of an enforcement counsel at the state Board of Elections.

Cuomo in December indicated he would be supportive of a pay raise if lawmakers backed a package of new reforms aimed at campaign finance laws — including the public funding of political campaigns — and disclosure requirements for outside income.

Silver today was charged with five counts of fraud and corruption stemming from undisclosed outside income.

“The public should also know they have a government that is going to continue working for them through difficult times like this and we don’t have the outcome of the process, which just be again late last night with the Speaker, so there is not much more to comment on that,” Hochul said.

Bharara: Silver Case Goes To The ‘Core’ Of Albany’s Problem

The case being brought by federal prosecutors against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver goes to the “core” of Albany’s ethics, disclosure and lobbying problems, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Thursday at a news conference.

Bharara this afternoon outlined a five-count complaint against Silver, who is being charged with a mix of fraud and corruption tied to his use of his public office to enrich himself.

Silver is accused of receiving more than $6 million over the last decade through referrals and favor-giving when it came to a variety of areas ranging from a powerful real-estate developer, a doctor and health-care interests.

As detailed in the complaint, Silver received the money as “referrals” which were really masked bribes and kickbacks.

Pointedly, Bharara said Silver never disclosed any of these payments due to “lax outside income laws.”

“The show me the money culture of Albany has been perpetuated at the very top of the political food chain,” Bharara said.

The federal government, meanwhile, has frozen $3.8 million of Silver’s funds in various bank accounts.

Bharara saved some of his most pointed comments for the closure of the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption, a panel created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 and subsequently shut down the following April after a deal on ethics reform was reached.

“A deal was cut to close Moreland Commission to the great relief of Sheldon Silver,” Bharara said.

After the commission closed, Bharara obtained records and files generated by the commission, though the investigation into Silver’s outside income began in June 2013, a month before the Moreland Commission was formed.

It had long been speculated what kind of money Silver was making at his law firm, where he is “of counsel.” Earlier this year, it was revealed Silver had been receiving previously undisclosed income from a law firm that had real-estate business before the state.

New disclosure laws have taken effect in recent years, with lawmakers having to disclose more specifics on their outside income, how they earn it and where.

Still, good-government organizations have noted the laws don’t necessarily go far enough in limiting the influence of private firms that seek “rain maker” lawmakers to sit on their boards or be of counsel.

Lawmakers, too, have in general resisted efforts to have their legal clients disclosed.

“Solving public corruption problems in Albany and the city is no one person’s problem,” Bharara said. “Legislators have to step up, the press has to step up.”

As for what’s next for a federal prosecutor who has made no bones about going after powerful political figures, Bharara ominously said, “Stay tuned.”

Assembly Democrats Back Silver Staying On As Speaker

Assembly Democrats emerged from a 90-minute closed-door meeting on Thursday to announce their overwhelming support for Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faces a five-count federal complaint on fraud and corruption.

“I’m continuing to support the speaker and I would say the members are overwhelmingly from the conversation that we just had are continuing their support,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, who was joined by dozens of Silver’s 106-member Democratic conference in the Assembly.

In a somewhat chaotic and cramped gaggle with reporters, Morelle insisted members in the meeting remain loyal to Silver, who has held the speaker’s gavel since 1994.

“We believe he can continue on as speaker,” Morelle said.

Lawmakers in the Democratic conference, however, did not review the corruption complaint released today by federal prosecutors, Morelle said.

He added there is an “overwhelming belief in the presumption of innocence” among the members of the conference.

Among those standing behind Morelle to show solidarity with Silver and the conference: Assemblyman Bill Scarborough, a Queens Democrat who faces his own corruption charges pertaining to the misuse of per diems.

The news conference underscored the bedrock of support Silver has built up over the last 21 years as the speaker of a fractious body of members with competing political, ethic and geographic concerns.

The Manhattan Democrat was only re-elected to the speaker’s post three weeks ago, with little dissent among members. Two Democrats — Assemblymen Charles Barron and Mickey Kearns — reiterated their calls for Silver to step down today, but neither lawmaker had initially supported him in the first place.

Silver’s arrest landed like a bombshell in Albany on Thursday morning, a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his $142 billion budget proposal and State of the State address.

Morelle said he had spoken to Silver last night about his returning to New York City today, but did not give a reason why. He said he had not spoken to Silver after the indictment was release.

Today’s regularly scheduled session was cancelled, but lawmakers insisted that next week will be a return to normalcy.

Morelle told reporters that members are “concerned for the speaker” and are withholding judgement.

“I do not think it’s a distraction,” Morelle said. “We have 106 members who are prepared to roll up their selves and do the work that they need to do.”

The Moreland Connection

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb today questioned whether there was “some connection” between the governor’s decision to shutter his corruption-busting Moreland Commission and the fact that the body might have uncovered wrongdoing by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was indicted earlier today on corruption charges.

Kolb said Gov. Andrew Cuomo “should make a statment” about the Silver mess and whether the Manhattan Democrat should continue on as speaker. Kolb and a number of his fellow Republicans are calling for Silver to relinquish his leadership post, arguing that it would be too much of a distraction from important legislative business for someone so damaged to continue to lead the chamber.

“He has said in the past it’s up to the members, the Assembly Democrats, the internal process, but Governor Cuomo is the leader of the party,” Kolb said. “And it goes back to why was the Moreland Commission cancelled? Is there some connection? Was this percolating back then? Those are a lot of questions I think the governor has to answer.”

According to the criminal complaint against Silver, a grand jury started probing his outside business interests in June 2013. Cuomo convened the Moreland Commission in July 2013, and it released its preliminary report in December of that year. Cuomo disbanded the commission in March after striking an ethics reform deal with legislative leaders.

Us Attorney Preet Bharara’s office picked up where the Moreland Commission left off, and Bharara was quite critical of the governor for shutting the panel down before its work was complete. He also reportedly has been looking into whether Cuomo meddled with the commission, as was widely reported, and tried to micromanage it and steer its attention toward the Legislature and away from anything to do with his own fundraising or influence.

Cuomo, meanwhile, argued he couldn’t possibly have broken any rules by interfering with the commission because he created it in the first place.

Kolb isn’t the only one to be invoking Moreland following this morning’s bombshell about Silver’s arrest. Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner, issued the following statement:

“The arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver by federal authorities for undisclosed income further reveals the crucial role the Moreland Commission played in bringing corruption in New York State government to light. This sad development underscores, yet again, the sorry state of ethics enforcement in New York.”

“These circumstances make it particularly egregious that the statutorily mandated Review Commission which was supposed to have been appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders to review and evaluate the performance of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission was never named”

“Common Cause/NY supports requiring New York’s Legislature to work full-time for New Yorkers along with strict limits on outside income. In the meantime, New York State needs stricter disclosure laws requiring elected officials to fully open their books to public scrutiny and a wholesale overhaul of ethics laws and enforcement. New Yorkers deserve a Legislature that does not function under a persistent and permanent ethical cloud. Common Cause/New York urges the U.S. Attorney and Speaker Silver to do everything possible to facilitate an early trial to resolve these troubling charges.

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Republicans Pile On Silver (Updated)

As expected, Republicans are – rather gleefully, it must be said – piling on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the wake of his arrest on corruption charges this morning, saying he must relinquish his leadership post for the good of the chamber, his constituents and the entire state of New York.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who remained fairly quiet when other Republicans were calling for Silver’s head during the sexual harassment scandal involving former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, now says it’s “imperative” that the speaker step down “immediately,” adding:

“His resignation as Speaker is in the best interest of the Assembly, of the State, and the best way for us to conduct the business that we are elected to do. We cannot afford this distraction with the important business before the Assembly and the people of New York State.”

It’s not clear to me why Kolb has experienced this change of heart. His previous position was that it wasn’t his place to meddle in the business of the Democratic conference, since Silver didn’t tell him how to run his conference (and he has had his share of detractors).

“The ultimate goal is saying ‘whose scandal is this?’ it’s not ours,” Kolb said back in 2013. “So let’s look and hold the people accountable for whose scandal it is.

Than again, the sexual harassment mess – and secret payouts to keep Lopez’s accusers and former aides quiet – was an internal problem with the Democratic conference, where this is a much bigger issue – corruption, which has claimed victims on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of the Legislature.

And, of course, Silver has been arrested and formally charged by the feds, which elevates this situation to a whole new level.

UPDATE: Speaking to reporters earlier today, Kolb said he is “not a person in this business that does personal attacks – never have, never will.”

“Having said that, when it comes to public policy, I think at this point in time when there’s actually an arrest, there’s a clear serious matter to take up,” the assemblyman continued. “And, you know, also the justice system is working on the other things the speaker was dealing with the Vito Lopez case. But I think this certainly raised to the level that he would be servely harmed, I think, by continuing on. I think he should resign as speaker. He does not have to resign as a member unless he’s convicted of a felony.”

One of Kolb’s critics, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, also called for Silver to resign (not the first time she has done so). She called the speaker “a disgrace to the people of New York and a blemish on all those who serve the public in this state. It is time to put the Silver era behind us once and for all.” Tenney also said the governor should get involved here and pressure Silver, a fellow Democrat, to depart.

“The politics of New York have for too long been three men in a room. The culture of corruption is pervasive as pay-offs, backroom deals, and cronyism are business as usual in Albany. This is unacceptable. Silver’s arrest is simply the latest indicator we need substantial reform in Albany,” the assemblywoman said.

“We should immediately move to clean up Albany. Career politician syndrome enabled this ignominious day in the history of New York. We need to institute real term limits, cut legislative pay and benefits, slash the length of the session, and restore the faith of the people in their public officials.”

Another female member of the Assembly GOP conference, Staten Island’s Nicole Malliotakis, who briefly eyed a potential run for the seat of disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm, but stepped aside for the party favorite, DA Dan Donovan, also is calling for Silver to resign – and it’s not the first time for her, either.

“It is beyond time for Sheldon Silver to step down as Speaker of the Assembly,” the assemblywoman said. “The demands of running the chamber and serving the taxpayers cannot be compromised by charges of corruption and a judicial proceeding of this magnitude. There is no doubt that New Yorkers desperately need and deserve new leadership of ‘the People’s House’.”

State GOP spokesman David Laska issued a statement calling for Silver’s immediate resignation, calling this another “sad day for New York,” and insisting that it should not serve as a distraction from “the important business of growing our economy and creating jobs.”

Onondaga County GOP Chairman Tom Dadey also got in on the fun, calling the situation with Silver “deeply troubling” and saying the Democratic Assembly members from Central New York should join him in demanding that the speaker step down.

“On their own, these allegations will only grow the distrust New Yorkers now feel towards Albany,” Dadey said. “We need more transparency and disclosure, stronger ethics laws, term limits and we need to eliminate the bad apples. I am hopeful that our local Assembly delegation, including Assembly members (Bill) Magnarelli, (Sam) Roberts and (Al) Stirpe will show true leadership and call for the Speaker’s ouster.”

So far, the Democrats haven’t said very much. Still no statement from the governor, for example. Members of Silver’s conference are discussing this matter behind closed doors and will be issuing a joint statement soon, I’m told.

A source who has spoken to some of the members mentioned as potential Silver successors, should it come to that, said everyone is keeping their powder dry for now. Timing is everything here. A wannabe speaker who pulls the trigger on his or her effort to oust the wounded leader too soon, only to see him survive this scandal as he has survived other (albeit smaller) scandals before, would no doubt be wandering the wilderness for many years.

That said, a wannabe Silver successor who doesn’t start lining up his or her supporters and make a move in a timely fashion could risk missing the opportunity to become one of the most powerful people in the state.

Skelos Won’t Weigh In On Whether Silver Should Resign

As Republicans across the state call for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to step down, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is not weighing in on the Manhattan Democrat’s future.

“I think that the Assembly has to make that decision,” Skelos said this morning. “He’s their leader, they’ll have to make that decision themselves.”

Elsewhere, Republicans across the state, including the GOP committee and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, are calling on Silver to stop down from thye post he’s held since 1994.

Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, could have some leverage moving forward in the budget process now that Silver faces a five-count indictment on fraud and corruption charges.

Skelos, along with Silver and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are the “three men in a room” for the closed-door high-level budget negotiations.

“I’m sure the speaker’s hoping to be acquitted,” Skelos said. “It is what it is. The U.S. attorney’s made a decision and now we’ll go through the process.”

Skelos added he was “surprised” by the indictment of Silver by the U.S. attorney’s office.

“But government moves forward, we’ll work on the budget,” Skelos said.

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