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U.S. attorney clears Cuomo administration of any wrongdoing in ethics panel controversy

Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo formed the Moreland Commission to investigate ethics in Albany in 2013.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo received a bit of good news just two days before he’s to give his State of the State address. The governor and his office have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the premature closing of an ethics commission.

Cuomo created a Moreland Act Commission in 2013 after he failed to win ethics reform from the legislature. He said at the time that the panel would investigate alleged wrongdoing by lawmakers and punish them. The governor shut down the commission the following March, as part of a budget deal. Critics, though, said Cuomo ended the probes because they were getting too close to some of his campaign contributors, and the U.S. attorney launched an investigation. Cuomo hired a criminal defense lawyer for his office.

Now, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says, in a brief statement, that his office “has concluded that, absent any additional proof that may develop, there is insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime."

But, perhaps more ominously for the legislature, the U.S. attorney goes on to say that probes begun by the Moreland commissions are continuing. Similar investigations led to the conviction of both leaders of the legislature on multiple corruption charges in late 2015.

Cuomo's defense attorney Elkan Abramowitz issued a brief statement in response to Bharara's announcement:

"We were always confident there was no illegality here, and we appreciate the U.S. Attorney clarifying this for the public record.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.