Governor Andrew Cuomo was just a boy of 15 on October 20, 1973 so he may not have been paying much attention to the momentous events of that evening.
Earlier, President Richard M. Nixon had authorized an independent prosecutor, Archibald Cox, to investigate the notorious break-in at Democratic Headquarters in Washington’s Watergate Building.
But he was uncomfortable when Mr. Cox issued subpoenas and set in motion the events that became known as “the Saturday Night Massacre” by ordering his Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Mr. Cox. Mr. Richardson refused and resigned in protest.
Nixon then turned to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also demurred and resigned.
Finally, Solicitor General Robert Bork — does the name ring a bell? — did the deed. Congress was infuriated at the act, calling it a gross abuse of executive power. It helped create the atmosphere that led to Nixon’s resignation under the threat of impeachment.
The circumstances aren’t exactly the same, but Mr. Cuomo campaigned for office on a promise to clean up the Albany cess pool, with legislator after legislator and even a previous governor forced from office for their shenanigans.
He appointed a blue ribbon independent commission under the state’s Moreland Act to root out corruption.
But after a three-month study, The New York Times reported that “the governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.”
The governor disbanded the commission and claimed its work was well done after agreeing to a weak-kneed reform package with the very legislature it was formed to investigate. His office responded to the excellently documented Times piece with claims including, “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive. It... would not pass the laugh test.” Mr. Cuomo’s stance does not pass the smell test.
Congress was outraged by Nixon’s action. Our state legislature breathed a sigh of relief.
So it is up to us, their constituents, to express our disgust and urge Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to investigate not only the matters uncovered by the Moreland Commission during its short tenure, but the activities of the governor’s henchmen as well.
And in this election year, we should demand that state Sen. Jeff Klein, who is positioned to remain co-leader again, introduce a truly effective package of election and lobbying reforms, initiating a real clean-up of the Albany cess pool.