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Gov. Kathy Hochul says her new appointee who voted to allow embattled former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to keep his lucrative book deal despite ethics concerns "literally is unknown" to her.
Hochul said she is personally unfamiliar with Commissioner Randall Hinrichs, a former Suffolk County district administrative judge who voted on Tuesday in favor of allowing Cuomo to keep his $5.1 million book deal. Hochul appointed Hinrichs to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics shortly before the body voted to allow Cuomo to keep the earnings from American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
"What happened yesterday was as a result of two resignations. In order for there to be any business going forward, I had to appoint somebody, and that is the circumstance we were in yesterday," she said Wednesday in reference to Cuomo's resignation and the JCOPE opening. "I had to find an individual, an individual who is highly recommended, has credentials, but literally is unknown to me."
When asked whether the JCOPE "should be replaced by something completely different" and whether "it's possible for an agency to police itself, or Albany to police itself," Hochul responded, "I said that day one."
"I said what I'm going to do is turn it upside down and to challenge the premise that an entity that is created by elected officials with their own appointees should be charged with investigating those individuals, should circumstances arise. The whole premise behind it is flawed ... I want to make sure that we are not stacking these bodies with our friends and with our allies as had been the past," she continued in an apparent swipe at her predecessor.
Hochul declined to offer an opinion on the outcome of the JCOPE's vote on Tuesday, saying she didn't "think it's [her] place to do so."
"If anyone's going to question my independence from this, start by the statement I'm offering right now: I will not interfere with that with JCOPE does. I'm not going to comment on their investigation. That's wildly inappropriate for me to do so," she vowed. "Now, if someone's going to infer from that that I'm trying to cut a better deal for the governor, I think it's well known that we've not been close, and I would, what is my interest in doing so? Someone would have to ask that question. So before people make certain assumptions that are highly erroneous, they are wrong ... That's not how we should be using what is supposed to be an independent organization, but before I'm all done, it will be an independent organization."
Representatives for the JCOPE did not immediately respond to the Washington Examiner's request for comment.
The JCOPE has been at the center of questions surrounding Cuomo's lucrative book deal, with Attorney General Letitia James issuing at least one subpoena to the agency earlier this month for its records on the book.
In April, James received a referral from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to investigate whether "public resources [were] used in the development and promotion of the governor's book" following a March 31 ethics complaint from liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which sought an investigation into whether Cuomo violated a law that prohibits "the use of campaign funds for personal use."
Cuomo, who is expected to rake in $5.1 million from the memoir, insisted staff members volunteered to help with the book, though his office acknowledged there could be some "incidental" use of state resources.
The JCOPE opened an investigation into separate allegations against the former governor in July after Larry Schwartz, a Cuomo ally and volunteer adviser who oversaw statewide COVID-19 vaccine distribution, allegedly called a handful of Democratic county executives to ask whether they would urge Cuomo to step down as he battled multiple scandals. Schwartz denied linking vaccine access to political support for the then governor, and Beth Garvey, Cuomo's counsel, said in March that "distorting Larry’s role or intentions for headlines maligns a decadeslong public servant."
Throughout the final months of his governorship, Cuomo faced several allegations of impropriety, including claims that he directed health officials to give special access to COVID-19 testing to his inner circle and that he hid the state's coronavirus death toll in nursing homes, among other charges. The former governor repeatedly denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Cuomo resigned on Aug. 24 after James released a bombshell report on Aug. 3 saying he sexually harassed 11 women and engaged in "retaliatory" behavior by "intend[ing] to discredit and disparage" at least one accuser. Hochul, who had been serving as lieutenant governor, was then elevated to the role of governor, and she attempted to distance herself from her predecessor, vowing to purge the governor's mansion of "unethical" Cuomo staff members and end the "toxic workplace environment."
The former governor signaled he will continue to defend his reputation in his post-governorship, railing against James's "unjust" report in his farewell address to the state.
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Original Author: Carly Roman