The one detail not revealed in the headline of today’s story at the NY Post is that the activity in question took place months ago. But everyone kept it under wraps until now. Attorney General Letitia James has been far more well known for issuing subpoenas into all business activities of the Trump family in New York since taking office, launching any number of fishing expeditions. But her interest in Democrats has been decidedly less on display, despite the many available targets. That changed when then-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s various scandals finally caught fire in the media. The subpoena in question wasn’t issued to Cuomo or even his publisher, by the way. It was sent to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the watchdog group that’s supposed to monitor such activities for improprieties. They had already looked into Cuomo’s book deal and given it the green light, but allegations have arisen suggesting that they might have been giving Cuomo preferential treatment.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has issued at least one subpoena to the state’s ethics agency for all records on disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5 million book deal, as part of her office’s criminal investigation into the matter.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics — the state’s watchdog panel — in summer 2020 approved Cuomo’s application to receive outside income from the memoir. But critics have ripped the green light as opaque and improper, since it was subject to internal approval by JCOPE staffers, instead of by a full panel vote.
A representative from James’ office declined to comment on the issuance of the subpoena, which was first reported by the Albany Times Union.
In order to receive that kind of money as an advance on a book written specifically about Cuomo’s performance of his duties in office, the JCOPE would have to approve it and say that nothing unethical was going on. In the interest of being fair to Cuomo, I’m not sure why he wouldn’t have the right to earn some extra money on the side by publishing a book. Even if the book was full of wild distortions and fantasies about how great his leadership supposedly was during the pandemic, that’s still not a basis for shutting him down. If every book a politician ever released with some lies in it was shut down, that section of the bookstore would likely have empty shelves.
But it’s not the content of the book that’s being disputed here. If the entire panel at the JCOPE had examined the question and voted to allow Cuomo to proceed, there probably wouldn’t be much that could be done about it. But in this case, the panel never took a vote. The process was handled by some staffers, allegedly in the employ of Democrats on the panel who were traditional allies of Cuomo. That may still not rise to the level of potential legal action against the former governor, but it could open the door to making him either return the money or donate it to charity.
It remains difficult to understand how this was kept a secret for this long but has now suddenly popped up in the press. While there is no smoking gun at this point, it’s worth noting that Letitia James has made no secret of the fact that she’s considering a run for governor next year. Cuomo would have been a formidable opponent if he wasn’t taken down by these scandals, but his replacement, Kathy Hochul, is an upstate, moderate Democrat who probably won’t do as well in New York City as her former boss. That could make her a more tempting target for James to try to take on, and this subpoena dumping a few more shovels full of dirt onto Andrew Cuomo’s political grave doesn’t hurt her cause much either.
But will this subpoena result in even more legal troubles for Andrew Cuomo further down the line? Aside from a possible financial loss, I can’t see how. It’s easy to get the sense that this developing news has a lot more to do with what’s going on behind the scenes in the 2022 gubernatorial race than Cuomo’s personal legal woes.