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U.S. Attorney talks about shuttered Moreland Commission ahead of debate

ALBANY – The federal prosecutor looking into government wrongdoing in Albany noted Wednesday how quickly Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down an anti-corruption panel earlier this year but did not reveal if he believes anyone in the Cuomo administration improperly sought to influence the panel’s work.

Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, suggested it would be wrong to conclude that his office is looking at only one case coming out of the files obtained from the now-shuttered Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

Bharara condemned what he called Albany’s “intersection of ambition and greed” that encourages a culture where government officials can earn unlimited outside income from groups or individuals with possible business before the state while seeking donations in a state that permits sky-high contribution limits.

Asked on the Capitol Pressroom public radio show what voters should think about his office’s ongoing Moreland commission probe, Bharara responded: “I don’t presume to tell the voters what they should or should not think.”

If the governor, in advance of Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate in Buffalo, was hoping for Bharara to publicly clear his administration, it did not come during the interview.

Nor did Bharara take the opportunity to beat back a Republican Party ad, which says Cuomo is under federal investigation for “witness tampering (and) obstruction of justice” for the way in which the Moreland panel was closed.

Bharara noted how Cuomo shut down the anti-corruption panel after “only nine months,” adding that government corruption cases need both time and independence to be effective.

Bharara has sounded concerns before about how Cuomo disbanded the Moreland panel in the middle of ongoing investigations, including the outside employment dealings by state legislators. The federal prosecutor in April demanded and got the panel’s truckload of investigative files and has been investigating an unknown number of possible corruption cases.

“You’re assuming there’s one investigation,” Bharara said when asked when the probe might be finished.

He gave no timetable for the work of his office, which he said is being handled by “some of the smartest people in law enforcement.”

Bharara declined to answer when asked if a political bargain can be a federal crime.