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Cuomo says he doesn't expect to testify at Percoco corruption trial

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he does not believe he will have to testify in the upcoming public corruption case of his longtime friend and adviser Joseph Percoco.

Cuomo did not expand but merely said “no” to questions from reporters today asking if he expects to testify and whether the high-profile trial will be a distraction for him.

The Percoco trial, involving charges including bribery and extortion, starts Jan. 8, less than a week after Cuomo gives his annual State of the State address and at the start of a new legislative session in Albany. The trial could take a month or longer, and its defendants include Percoco, who was a top Cuomo aide and former Cuomo campaign chairman, as well as three private sector executives charged as a part of the corruption case.

Cuomo, who has not met with the Albany press corps since June, took questions for 20 minutes following an annual event Wednesday that doles out economic development funds to 10 regions of the state. Most of his commentary during the press appearance was dedicated to his criticism of the federal tax package coming together in Washington.

Cuomo bristled at questions involving recent revelations that the FBI is looking into hiring practices by the governor and his staff, including using other public accounts to pay for salaries of people assigned to Cuomo’s staff.

Asked why he has hired former political staffers from the campaigns of ex-President Obama and Hillary Clinton, Cuomo stared at the reporter and said: “Have you been in Albany? Have you covered government? Do people who have political experience get hired by government or is this a new fact for you?’’

In other matters, Cuomo:

* declined to say when he might call special elections to fill two looming vacant Senate seats. If those seats are won by Democrats, party officials say there will be a deal to unite feuding Democratic factions in the state Senate and oust Republicans from control of the chamber.

* defended the hiring of Sam Hoyt, his former top economic development adviser for Western New York who recently resigned and was sued by a Buffalo woman who alleges he sexually harassed and assaulted her. Cuomo has gotten criticism for hiring Hoyt, who was sanctioned in 2008 by the Assembly for having an affair with a 23-year-old legislative intern. “I think what he did was wrong. I don’t think it was a mistake to hire him,’’ Cuomo said of Hoyt. He said Hoyt “paid his price” when he was sanctioned by the Assembly and barred from employing interns in his legislative office.

* blasted as “mind-boggling” the GOP tax package agreed to today in Washington, including limits on the ability of taxpayers to deduct their state and local taxes on their federal income tax. He blasted as “Benedict Arnolds” those GOP members of Congress from New York who support the measure. He again specifically held out U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, for supporting what he said an “abusive” measure that will hurt New York taxpayers. He said state and local taxes will be forced higher in New York as a result of the federal tax deal.

*declined to join U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s call that President Trump, facing ongoing allegations of sexual harassment, resign from office. “I understand what she’s trying to say,’’ Cuomo said.

Cuomo got into an exchange with Karen DeWitt, the Capitol bureau chief of New York Public Radio, when the reporter tried to press Cuomo on what measures his administration was taking regarding sexual harassment in state government. She noted that Cuomo has seen his administration hit by the recent sexual harassment allegations against Hoyt.

For his part, Cuomo countered that sexual harassment is a problem beyond state government. DeWitt pressed on, asking Cuomo, as head of the state government, what new policies he might be proposing to deal with the problem in government agencies.

"We will have policies in state government that affect state government. But I think you miss the point. When you say it's state government, you do a disservice to women, with all due respect, even though you are a woman. It's not government. It's society,'' Cuomo said.

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