WASHINGTON – Truth in state government and here in the federal capital again has trumped all as the most elusive quality in public affairs. Five months ago, CIA Director John Brennan blandly said of charges that his agency spied on Congress, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
But Brennan’s own inspector general said Thursday that Brennan in effect lied. The report validated charges that Brennan essentially supported the CIA’s meddling in domestic politics and, worse, attempted to intimidate officials of a separate branch of government, the Senate. Both actions violate clear limits imposed by Congress on the CIA 66 years ago.
And of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a federal prosecutor in Manhattan indicated he isn’t buying the stories Cuomo and his lieutenants gave out in Buffalo and coordinated in New York City a week ago in response to charges that the governor’s people interfered with the work of a commission Cuomo created, then abruptly dismantled.
Now comes word from the New York Daily News that the governor in May hired a top criminal lawyer to defend members of his administration who might come under investigation by the prosecutor, Preet Bharara.
The New York Times and other outlets disclosed that Bharara’s office on Wednesday sent to a lawyer who worked for Cuomo’s disbanded Moreland Commission a letter warning that some statements made last Monday that generally defended Cuomo’s conduct could amount to obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
Bharara and his staff picked up some of the loose threads left by the abandoned commission and are investigating them.
The Times reported that last Monday’s statements defending the governor were solicited “by the governor or his emissaries.” The letter from Bharara’s office warned that attempts to change or influence a witness’s recollection of events could be considered obstruction or tampering under federal law.
The Times reported that Cuomo’s aides earlier this year “deeply compromised” the commission’s work when its lawyers began to focus on organizations linked to Cuomo.
Just before the governor met with reporters in Buffalo, one of the co-chairmen of the commission, Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick, issued a lengthy statement and said, “nobody interfered with the commission.” Cuomo himself reiterated last Monday he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
The gingerly manner in which Bharara’s office issued its warning, having it read to reporters instead of being handed out, suggested the potential of tension between Bharara and Democratic higher-ups friendly to Cuomo who work for Bharara’s boss, Attorney General Eric Holder. In the 1960s, then President Richard Nixon ordered the removal of then U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau when he began investigating friends of the president.
Brennan apologized privately to two U.S. senators, who head the Intelligence Committee, Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. The CIA hacked the committee’s computers starting in 2009. The panel was investigating CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Brennan should resign for his falsehoods but the White House said Thursday that Brennan had no credibility problem with the president. The CIA’s actions were an egregious violation of the separation of powers. Udall has called for a criminal probe of the CIA.
What about accountability? On Brennan, apparently none from the White House. This president is not big on separation of powers, even when it affects the Democratic-controlled Senate. On Cuomo, the voters of New York are so besotted with big government and taxpayer handouts and so inured to corruption that Bharara’s investigation, if it continues, will have little effect on Cuomo’s re-election.