BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – As Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to weather the fallout from a July 23 New York Times investigative report chronicling his alleged interference with the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe issued a press release Monday clarifying his role in the Commission, lauding its work and stating that he never threatened to resign in protest of alleged interloping from top-level aides of the governor.
“At no time during my tenure with the Commission did I ever threaten to resign from the Moreland Commission,” Zugibe said in his . “This blue ribbon group under the guidance of the co-chairs did incredible work, recommending substantive policy changes and pursuing investigations that would strengthen ethical standards and provide comprehensive oversight. I am proud of the work we accomplished through this landmark effort to practice and promote the highest standards of ethical behavior in New York State government.”
Zugibe had been critical of the package of laws the governor and Legislature enacted in May. Zugibe said to Albany media at the time, “I cannot fathom when the governor sent over the recommended legislation, why would they negotiate out the LLC loophole or the limitations on the housekeeping accounts? Did their constituents want that? Of course not. It was self-preservation.”
At the time, Zugibe also argued the Commission could have achieved much more going forward and went so far as to suggest the lack of limitations on LLCs and housekeeping accounts was a political maneuver. The LLC loophole allows individuals to open LLCs and donate multiple times to candidates, rendering campaign donation limits toothless.
Zugibe’s denial Monday that he threatened to resign follows similar statements from Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick.
In reality, the New York Times had never actually reported that Zugibe or Mollen threatened to quit, but rather cited sources who said Zugibe and others “discussed” resigning. Zugibe and Mollen did not address whether they ever “discussed” resigning in their statements.
Others involved with the Commission argued there was at least dissent among Commission members. Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita acknowledged that when rumors of interference spread within the Commission spread during the summer of 2013, the option of resignation was put on the table by some participants.
“Although we recognized our statutory duty to regularly report to the governor and to the attorney general, we would not stand for any interference, and discussed a number of options, including resignation,” Sedita said. “The Governor’s Office, through our commission chairs, agreed not to interfere with our work. No one, to my knowledge, threatened to resign.”
On Monday Zugibe said he’s confident other reforms recommended by the Commission will be implemented. He also said he believes the governor supports broader reforms than were enacted earlier this year.
Zugibe issued the statement shortly after Cuomo made his first public appearance since the scandal broke. The governor had receded from public view for about five days, a decision that his Republican challenger for governor Rob Astorino has highlighted in repeated press releases and media events.
When he finally emerged into public view Cuomo attempted to minimize the scope of the scandal by referring to communications between his office and investigators as mere advice, insisting investigators were largely independent and maintaining that the passage of the limited ethics package proved the Commission was a success. “The best evidence of independence is when someone from the second floor says, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ The chairman says, ‘Let me think about.’ And then the chairman says, ‘I disagree, I don’t want to do that.’ That’s not a sign of interference. That is demonstrable proof of independence,” Cuomo said.
Last week, Zugibe said he would decline comment on the Moreland Commission until U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara finished his investigation of its work. Zugibe confirmed he and the other commissioners had received subpoenas ordering them to produce documents related to the Moreland panel’s work.
“In light of the active and ongoing inquiry presently being conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office, any further comments regarding the Moreland Commission during the pendency of this investigation will be deferred,” Zugibe said in an email Thursday.
There has been no indication whether Cuomo played a role in encouraging Zugibe and other Moreland Commission members to make the laudatory statements regarding the Commission.