High-profile former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara posted an intriguing tweet that said he knows what the Moreland Commission “must have felt like.”
Here’s the tweet, which Bharara posted on March 12:
Bharara, who was a well-known U.S. Attorney in New York, was fired by the Trump administration on March 11 after dramatically refusing a request to resign. His cryptic tweet has a lot of people wondering what exactly he was implying.
What was the Moreland Commission and what was Bharara’s role in that controversy?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Created & Then Suddenly Disbanded the Commission Investigating Public Corruption
The Moreland Commission was a “state anticorruption commission,” according to The New York Times, that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo created and then shut down in 2014. It was supposed to operate independently.
The Times reported in an expose that generated a great deal of controversy at the time that prosecutors on the commission said in a letter that they believed Cuomo and his staff “intervened” in the commission’s operations “in a manner that, at times, led them to question the independence” of it.
The panel was investigating “political firms hired by the governor and major donors to the governor’s campaigns,” according to The Huffington Post.
Cuomo denied any intervention with the panel, which he created in July 2013 and “abruptly” shut down nine months later, The New York Times reported. Politico reported that the Commission was “co-chaired by two sitting district attorneys and a former federal prosecutor” and commissioners were “deputized by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to allow them to issue subpoenas and take testimony under oath.” (That’s the same AG who took on Trump University).
According to a Columbia University article on the Commission, it was “named for a 1907 law granting governors authority to investigate state bodies.” The report says, “The Moreland Commission had the double mandate of investigating corruption and recommending reforms of the state’s ethics and election laws. The commission released the first of two planned reports—which focused on campaign finance reform and the state board of elections—at the end of 2013, and then things went quiet.”
2. Bharara Investigated Cuomo’s Shutting Down of the Moreland Commission but Said No Crime Was Committed
According to Politico, Bharara investigated Cuomo’s shut down of the Moreland Commission for 17 months.
Politico reported that Bharara said at the time that closing the commission was “premature” but that “absent any additional proof that may develop, there is insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime.”
Politico reported that Bharara’s office seized the commission’s records in 2014, “promising to pick up where the commission left off” and quoted him as saying, “We continue to have active investigations related to substantive inquiries that were being conducted by the Moreland Commission at the time of its closure.”
However, in the end, Bharara closed the probe. Columbia University quoted a law professor who was on the Commission as saying of Cuomo: “He all but disbanded the commission by press release.”
During his time as U.S. Attorney, Bharara (who once worked for Democratic U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer), developed a reputation as a hard-charging crusader against corruption. Learn more about his firing and biography here:
3. On Social Media, Some People Are Wondering Whether Bharara Was Implying Something About Trump
On social media, people tried to read the tea leaves in Bharara’s tweet and wondered if he was implying that he was, or was about to, investigate public corruption relating to Trump or someone else. It’s not lost on people that he’s drawing an analogy to a public corruption investigatory panel that was shut down by the person who might have stood a lot to lose.
Some have wondered if Bharara could have been in a position to investigate the Trump Foundation, and some reports had said Bharara was investigating the Clinton Foundation with the FBI. Others have noted that Trump Tower, which Trump sensationally claimed (without providing evidence) was wiretapped, is located in Manhattan. Bharara presided over the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District, which encompasses that area.
4. Cuomo Created the Moreland Commission After the Legislature Failed to Pass Campaign Finance Reform
According to The Huffington Post, the Commission was also called the “Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.”
It was created by Cuomo “in response to the failure of the state Legislature to pass campaign finance reform legislation in the 2013 session,” reported the Huffington Post.
Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent and good government groups expressed concern over alleged meddling by Cuomo in the Commission as well as its shutdown, HuffPo reported.
According to the Columbia University report, “The commission issued around 300 subpoenas, which ran into stonewalling from legislators who many speculated were planning to wait out the commission’s projected 18 to 24 month life span.”
In the end, Cuomo argued that a package of legislative reforms had made the commission moot.
5. Bharara’s Firing Surprised Some Observers Because Trump Had Said He Could Stay On
Bharara’s firing came after Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for the resignation of dozens of U.S. Attorneys throughout the country. This is not unusual; U.S. Attorney positions often change with a new president, although the posts are supposed to be isolated from politics.
Here’s the statement Bharara put out after he was fired:
What was surprising to some was that Bharara’s name was on the resignation list in the first place because Trump had indicated he could stay on, and he has a reputation as a fiery crusader. Then, upping the ante, Bharara refused the AG’s request to resign and was fired by the Trump administration. Reuters reported that Trump tried to call Bharara before his firing, but Bharara declined to take the call after he didn’t get authorization from his superiors in Justice to take it.