New York governor's office meddled in corruption probe to protect pro-Cuomo groups: report
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gives the State of the State address on Jan. 8, 2014 in Albany, New York [AFP]

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office meddled with a commission he created to root out corruption in state politics, pushing back whenever it focused on groups tied to Cuomo, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The commission that Cuomo established in July 2013 to investigate violations of campaign finance laws and other matters was hobbled almost from the start by demands from the governor’s office, despite a public promise of independence, the Times said.

Within a year, it was disbanded by Cuomo, who had initially indicated it would operate for about 18 months.

Now the commission's scrapped probes, which included hundreds of emails, subpoenas and internal documents from politicians and state agencies, are being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Times said. Federal prosecutors also are looking into what role Cuomo and his aides played in the panel's shutdown.

Cuomo's office did not immediately respond to calls about the Times story and a spokesman for Bharara declined to comment on it.

The bipartisan Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, more commonly known as the Moreland Commission, was created after the state capital was rocked by a series of scandals involving legislators, which Cuomo said had undermined the public's confidence in state government.

The commission was granted the power to subpoena state officials, lawmakers and records from state agencies, such as the Board of Elections.

"Anything they want to look at, they can look at - me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman," Cuomo, a Democrat, told reporters in August 2013.

But the commission soon encountered resistance from Cuomo's office when it issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm, Buying Time, which unbeknownst to investigators happened to include Cuomo as one of its clients, the Times said.

The governor's most senior aide, Lawrence Schwartz, directed the commission to withdraw the subpoena, which it did.

"This is wrong," Schwartz was quoted in the Times as telling the commission. "Pull it back."

Similar responses from Cuomo's office had shut down several other investigative efforts whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Cuomo or on issues that might cast him in a negative light, the Times said.

That included stopping a subpoena the commission planned to send to the Real Estate Board of New York, the trade group whose members have generously supported Cuomo, the Times said.

After he abruptly disbanded the commission in March and caught the eye of the U.S. attorney's office, Cuomo downplayed 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 Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Bill Trott)