The current joke in Albany is that while most people think that AG stands for Attorney General, it really means “almost governor.” That’s because lately the Attorney General is next up to be governor. Eric Schneiderman, the current Attorney General, must be measuring the curtains in the governor’s office.
Schneiderman’s relationship with Andrew Cuomo has been touchy at times. In fact, when Cuomo moved from AG to governor, some immediate territorial disputes were reported to have occurred. Rumors were flying that Cuomo wanted to import some of his old AG responsibilities to his new office. Schneiderman balked and apparently won that battle but we are told that things got quite testy after that. No one was surprised by any of this since Andrew is a hard-fighting, take-no-prisoners guy who operates under the dictum that if you aren’t him you aren’t good.
Then things calmed down and it looked like everyone was playing well together. Cuomo even began to treat Comptroller Tom DiNapoli nicely, which was an eye opener, since Cuomo had been bullying DiNapoli since they were both elected. “Maybe, just maybe,” I thought, “Cuomo was growing up.”
Make no mistake about it — the governor found new enemies to bully, like Mayor de Blasio. The truth is, Cuomo needed Attorney General Schneiderman and soon tapped him to work on the Moreland Act Commission. Yes, THAT Moreland Act Commission that the governor established to root out corruption in state government, something that he had been promising to do from his first campaign. His problem was that the new crime fighting commission didn’t have the authority to investigate the Legislature but the state Attorney General did. So Cuomo, in his Machiavellian genius, asked Schneiderman to deputize all the members of the Commission as Assistant State Attorneys General. Schneiderman did so and probably felt he would get credit for partnering with Cuomo in his fight against corruption.
The problem came when, for unfathomable reasons, Cuomo mysteriously disbanded his own Moreland Act Commission. Cuomo insisted that it was HIS commission and he could do what he wanted with it. He also said that he got what he wanted from the Legislature, which was a very lukewarm so-called ethics reform. This left an obviously frustrated Schneiderman out in the cold. He ended up looking like a tool of the governor and an ineffective one at that, to quote Shakespeare.
All of this Moreland nonsense has made United States Attorney Preet Bharara mad enough so that he picked up the pieces and started studying why Cuomo disbanded the crime fighting commission in the first place. While he took his time at it, Bharara eventually found that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to indict anyone. But — and it is a big but — at the same time, Bharara had started a huge investigation of the so-called Buffalo Billions and how contracts were being awarded by the Cuomo administration and its friends in high places.
As for his part, Schneiderman saw where Bharara was going with the federal investigations in Buffalo and Albany and opened one of his own. Like Bharara, he is issuing subpoenas all over the place and seems to be targeting many of the same Cuomo-affiliated suspects as in the Bharara investigation. Perhaps he is just doing his job and doing it well. Perhaps somewhere deep down, Schneiderman remembers the embarrassment Cuomo caused him in the Moreland Act mess. One thing is for sure — Schneiderman was damaged by the Moreland mess and this is a good time to establish his bona fide credentials as a law enforcement tough guy.
If there is one thing that the very damaged Andrew Cuomo should have learned through all of this, it is that when you don’t play nice with others, your actions can come back to bite you in the behind. I suspect that’s what’s going on now between the governor and his potential successor.