A Republican super PAC is trying to get Gov. Andrew Cuomo to hand over “copies of any and all” Blackberry PIN messages he and his team sent to an anti-corruption commission his office allegedly interfered with.
On Monday, America Rising, which is dedicated to exposing “the truth about Democrats,” sent a request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law to Cuomo’s records officer, George Steifel, asking for “copies of any and all Blackberry PIN messages exchanged between Governor Andrew Cuomo, or members of Gov. Cuomo’s staff, or any individuals acting on behalf of Gov. Cuomo in an official capacity, and members of the Anti-Corruption Commission, known as the Moreland Commission, or any staff members of the commission.”
Cuomo established the Moreland Commission last year and disbanded it in March. Last month, the New York Times reported a top Cuomo aide attempted to quash the commission’s subpoenas when they were sent to the governor’s allies. The matter is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors. Cuomo’s office responded with a 13 page letter calling the Times story “legally, ethically, and practically false.”
America Rising initially sent a FOIL request communications between Cuomo’s inner circle and Moreland members late last year when reports of alleged intervention with the commission by the governor’s office first surfaced in the Daily News. According to the PAC’s new letter, which was written by America Rising Executive Director Tim Miller, Steifel responded to the group’s initial FOIL request by saying there were no written communications between Cuomo’s inner circle and the commission.
However, there was reportedly contact between Cuomo’s aides and the commission. According to the Times, Moreland members “were told to communicate with Mr. Cuomo’s aides only via BlackBerry PIN messages, not recorded on government servers.” America Rising’s letter to Cuomo’s office noted, based on the Times report, the New York Post described the governor’s response to the initial FOIL request as “misleading.”
One legislative staffer in Albany told Business Insider it is “common knowledge” the governor and his staff communicate on sensitive issues via Blackberry PIN messages, which are encrypted. A longtime Albany operative agreed with this and attributed the use of PIN messaging by Cuomo’s inner circle, which is based on the second floor of the state capitol building, to the governor’s “extreme paranoia.”
“Andrew’s seen far too many people go down because they put their scheming in writing. Add that to his extreme paranoia, and good luck to anyone trying to find out what’s actually happening on the second floor,” the operative said.
Cuomo’s office referred Business Insider to a past comment from the governor’s spokesman Matthew Wing where he described Blackberry PIN messages as “a common way that many people communicate in 2014.” They also referred us to a statement Cuomo made in response to a letter from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that warned asking members of the Moreland Commission to issue statements claiming they were not interfered with could constitute witness tampering in an ongoing federal investigation into the matter. In that statement, Cuomo described public comments made by members of the commission refuting the reports of alleged interference as “personal statements to correct the record.” Cuomo also said he would “have no additional comment on the matter.”
For his part, Miller described Cuomo’s use of PIN messaging as “very sketchy” and said he was hopeful his group’s new FOIL would “expose” the governor’s interference in the commission.
“If a boss tells you to resort to blackberry PIN messages to avoid accountability when ordering around an ethics commission, something very sketchy is afoot,” Miller wrote in a message to Business Insider. “Cuomo was caught redhanded lying about interfering with the ethics commission by our last FOIL, we’re hopeful this one will expose the details of his tampering.”
View America Rising’s new FOIL request below.
CORRECTION (11:52 a.m.): This story initially said America Rising “subpoenaed” the governor’s office last year. The PAC’s first attempt to get records was a FOIL request, not a subpoena.
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