If there was any question about what the state’s Joint Commission On Public Ethics was investigating, and what was the scope of its investigation, the group’s Monday meeting cleared any confusion.
“At our last meeting on September 7, the commission had a discussion about a generic process issue. That issue having resolved, the commission unanimously voted today to commence a substantial basis investigation,” said JCOPE Chairwoman Janet DiFiore.
The scandal began with sexual harassment allegations against Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver authorized a secret, largely taxpayer-funded $103,000 payment to settle claims against two women.
But in an interview on WGDJ-AM Monday, the governor suggested the investigation goes beyond the assembly speaker’s role.
“It was not a secret deal done by Sheldon Silver, which people would think Sheldon Silver signed a secret deal. It was a secret deal reviewed by the attorney general’s office and implemented by the comptroller’s office,” said Cuomo.
Some of the JCOPE commissioners, who held an uncharacteristically candid discussion about transparency during the public portion of Monday’s meeting, were unhappy about a press release issued last week by Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto.
In the release, the governor called for an investigation by his own office, if JCOPE limits the scope of its investigation to just Lopez.
But the governor made the exact same point himself in his Monday radio interview.
“There is always a Plan B, right? The Plan B on JCOPE is if JCOPE did not work as a good faith measure. Then what caused JCOPE to be formed in the first place, in my opinion, then the governor has the option of doing a Moreland Commission,” Cuomo said.
“Why I think that’s academic. The commission now has voted for a full investigation, which is what we wanted,” Silver said on Monday.
Beside JCOPE, another investigation looking into this matter is headed by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who was named a special prosecutor by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
The JCOPE board itself could also wind up under investigation, as a member, Ravi Batra, stepped down Friday after alleging the commission has not acted in good faith.