U.S. Attorney Warns Andrew Cuomo Over Potential Obstruction, Witness Tampering

By Eric M. Johnson

July 31 (Reuters) - A U.S. attorney has threatened to investigate the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering, amid its broader probe into the disbanding of an anticorruption commission, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The warning was sent in a letter to the lawyer for the disbanded commission on Wednesday from the office of Preet Bharara, in Manhattan, which has been investigating the panel's shutdown and pursuing its unfinished corruption cases.

The Times reported last week that Cuomo's office meddled with the commission, which he created last year to root out corruption in state politics.

In the letter, prosecutors alluded to public statements made by panel members earlier this week in which they defended Cuomo's handling of the commission, and said at least some of the statements were prompted by requests by the governor or people acting on his behalf, the Times said.

"We have reason to believe a number of commissioners recently have been contacted about the commission's work, and some commissioners have been asked to issue public statements characterizing events and facts regarding the commission's operation," prosceutors wrote, according to the letter which was read to the Times.

"To the extent anyone attempts to influence or tamper with a witness's recollection of events relevant to our investigation, including the recollection of a commissioner or one of the commission's employees, we request that you advise our office immediately, as we must consider whether such actions constitute obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses that violate federal law."

Cuomo's office and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Reuters could not independently confirm the report.

One of the panel's co-chairs, Onondaga County district attorney William Fitzpatrick, said in a statement earlier this week: "Nobody 'interfered' with me or my co-chairs."

The bipartisan Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, more commonly known as the Moreland Commission, was established after the state capital was plagued by a series of scandals involving lawmakers.

It was meant to investigate violations of campaign finance laws and other ethics matters but was hobbled almost from the start by demands from the governor's office, despite a public promise of independence, the Times reported last week.

Within a year, it was disbanded by Cuomo, who had initially indicated it would operate for about 18 months. He played down the idea that he had interfered with its work.

"It's my commission," the governor told the editorial board of Crain's New York Business in late April. "I can't 'interfere' with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me."

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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