CapCon’s Jimmy Vielkind has a fascinating article in today’s TU about a dispute between AG Eric Schneiderman and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over expanding the AG’s power to probe public corruption.

It pretty much boils down to this: Schneiderman, through intermediaries, reportedly tried to get Cuomo to use his executive power to issue a so-called “blanket referral” that would give the AG subpoena power in corruption cases.

That’s something Schneiderman does not currently have on his own, though he has teamed up with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (another Democrat with a tricky, and sometimes contentious, relationship with Cuomo) and can piggyback on his power in certain instances.

The Cuomo camp, which denies anyone connected to Schneiderman ever made such an ask, argues that even if the governor wanted to expand the power of the office he used to hold, he couldn’t do so because acting unilaterally through executive order would be illegal.

Cuomo’s former top aide, Steve Cohen, (to whom, incidentally, the Schneiderman appeal was reportedly made through the AG’s top aide, Neal Kwatra), argued the following in a Nov. 26, 2010 response to a NY Times OpEd calling for the governor to empower Schneiderman:

“(C)alling for Governor-elect Andrew M. Cuomo to immediately and unilaterally empower the attorney general to investigate the Legislature is, I believe, wrong on the law and misguided in approach.”

“…In truth, what New York needs is wholesale reform of its ethics laws, not a jerry-rigged solution. This state is more likely to get real reform if the governor-elect can build consensus with the Legislature, rather than attacking it on Day 1 with an illegal proposal. We should all know by now that steamrollers don’t work in Albany.”

“Also, the governor does not have the legal authority to broadly delegate prosecution of corruption in the Legislature to the attorney general. The governor does, however, have legal options if the Legislature fails to act by passing real reform. For example, under the Moreland Act the governor could appoint a commission to investigate corruption.”

(That “steamroller” reference is, of course, a swipe at former Gov. Eliot Spitzer).

As Vielkind noted, the ethics reform bill pushed through the Legislature by Cuomo did not give any new role to the AG’s office.

Of course, back when Cuomo himself was AG, he and his aides argued vociferously in favor of increasing his public corruption probe powers. But, even back then, the vehicle they sought for those changes was through the Legislature and not the governor’s office.

That stands to reason, considering the rivalry between Spitzer and Cuomo, who was widely known to have designs on the governor’s office.

Considering the fact that the Troopergate scandal, ignited by a scathing report from then-AG Cuomo, sparked the last public debate over the AG’s public corruption powers, it’s likely a plea to Spitzer’s office to further strengthen Cuomo would have falled on deaf ears – to say the least.

There was actually at one point a Senate bill that proposed requiring the IG to empower the AG with the ability to issue subpoenas in public corruption cases in instances of conflicts of interest like the one created by Trooperate.

That measure was floated by former Sen. George Winner, who used to head the Investigations Committee, but chose not to seek re-election last fall. It’s unclear if the bill ever even made it into print.

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Cuomo included boosting AG power to investigate public corruption in his “New New York Agenda” (Chapter I, P. 15), writing that the office he currently held should have “full concurrent jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute civil and criminal violations of the laws.”

He did not, however, spell out how that power should be conferred. And, as mentioned above, he didn’t move to include that in his ethics reform plan once he took office.

In the OpEd that sparked Cohen’s letter-to-the-editor response, the NYT said Cuomo had pledged to “allow Mr. Schneiderman’s office to become Albany’s one-stop, anti-sleaze operation” if an ethics reform deal failed to materialize during his first six months in office.

Cuomo did manage to wrangle a deal, which called for scrapping the existing Public Integrity Commission and replacing it with something now known as J-COPE – a body we’re still awaiting the formation of. In the meantime, the PIC has been gutted, and there’s no ethics watchdog patrolling the beat in Albany.

The whole executive order issue was raised by former Spitzer aide and 2010 AG contender Eric Dinallo in a letter to then-Gov. David Paterson.

Paterson’s top aide, Larry Schwartz, (now a top aide to Cuomo; oh, what a tangled web we weave), said at the time that the governor was “open-minded” about Dinallo’s proposal, but nothing ever came of it.

However, Paterson wasn’t shy about tapping Cuomo to look into other matters – including the alleged misuse of power by the State Police, (remember: secret squirrel missions?) and, eventually, his own involvement in the domestic abuse scandal of his body man, David Johnson.

That scandal eventually led to Paterson’s political demise, and, of course, Cuomo’s nearly uncontested rise to the governor’s office.

These days, the Cuomo administration’s position appears to be: If you want more power, Schneiderman, go out and get it yourself. As Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto told the TU: “If the attorney general wants to propose the legal change, he should do it.”