Ronan Farrow On How Gov. Cuomo Interfered With Anti-Corruption Efforts In The Past
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned.
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ANDREW CUOMO: Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing.
SHAPIRO: The circumstances Cuomo refers to are the raft of sexual harassment allegations that have dogged the New York Democrat since earlier this year. Many were detailed in a 165-page report released by New York State Attorney General Letitia James last week. The allegations of inappropriate touching, bullying and retribution ultimately drove Cuomo's demise, but in a newly published article, The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow writes about another episode in Cuomo's tenure that was also characterized by bullying and retribution.
Ronan joins us now to talk more about today's events and his reporting. Good to have you back.
RONAN FARROW: Always a pleasure, Ari.
SHAPIRO: You write that long before Cuomo's efforts to discredit reports that he had sexually harassed women, he repeatedly interfered in another state probe that threatened him - the Moreland Commission. Briefly explain what that was.
FARROW: The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was a sweeping endeavor by Cuomo, established in 2013, to root out what is really an epidemic corruption - of corruption that persists in Albany. And New York state is one of the epicenters of corruption by many measures in all of America. There's a lot of graft, and there had been a series of prosecutions that I think compelled Cuomo to feel this would be a political win to investigate this kind of misconduct in Albany.
SHAPIRO: So he sets up this commission, and then your article cites instance after instance where he or one of his aides interferes in the commission's work. We should note that the governor and his staff deny any wrongdoing in relation to the commission. But can you give us one example that you think indicates this pattern of behavior you write about?
FARROW: Well, it's very striking that two of the central players in this commission, Danya Perry, who ran its investigations, and Kathleen Rice, now a congresswoman who was one of the chairs of the commission, are both on the record for the first time saying that there was an abuse of power in this context. And one of the instances that they cite is that they were assured that this was an independent body that could subpoena whoever they chose to subpoena, including Cuomo's allies. But once they did that, once they began to investigate and issue subpoenas requesting records from people around Cuomo, they say he immediately started trying to pull the plug on their efforts, including literally through intermediaries, pulling back process servers who were issuing those subpoenas. And then when they resisted those efforts, they both say that they faced browbeating and threats to their careers.
SHAPIRO: You write that the panel did not uncover evidence implicating Cuomo in personal graft or corruption. So why would he have felt the need to try to control the commission if he was not going to be implicated by it?
FARROW: Well, the question of whether he was going to be implicated by it in the view of these investigators is unanswered. They feel that they were uncovering a web of special interest money around Cuomo that he did not want uncovered and that they were never able to look into, for instance, dark money entities that backed him.
And, you know, I think the important thing to note here, Ari, is that this is directly connected to today's events. The events that we chronicle in this story culminate in Preet Bharara, the top prosecutor in Manhattan, issuing a warning to Cuomo that he was going to investigate the fact that he, the governor, was pulling the plug on this commission, that he considered it improper. He was going to be interviewing people. And in response, there was a call placed by Cuomo to the Obama White House in which, you know, some officials there felt he was certainly bordering on obstructing justice. He complained about this scrutiny of him. And this informs a current conflict that persists to this day, where around the current report there have been ongoing efforts to smear these same figures, including Preet Bharara, who is connected to the author of the AG's report that you mentioned.
SHAPIRO: I was going to ask you to connect the dots between the allegations of obstruction of justice and the allegations of harassment. Because you as an investigative reporter have covered so many instances of high-profile sexual abusers, how do you connect this attempted bullying and coercion to the cases of sexual harassment and retaliation documented in the attorney general's report that led to his resignation?
FARROW: So in announcing the report, Tish James, the state AG, made this striking remark, Ari, about how Cuomo had assailed her credibility. And he also - and his team also assailed the credibility of Joon Kim, one of the independent counsels retained to write that AG report. It turns out that is rooted in a long history. Joon Kim was involved in investigating the closure of the Moreland Commission. He worked for Preet Bharara. So we documented this report, sort of the beginnings of that animosity and the playbook we see around the harassment victims in the report, the intimidation, the threats to careers. It goes on to this day.
SHAPIRO: That's reporter Ronan...
FARROW: It may stop after the resignation.
SHAPIRO: Reporter Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker, thank you very much.
FARROW: Thank you, Ari. Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.