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The Paterson Comments

April 20, 2015

Let’s parse Paterson on Preet.

First, understand that on a matter like this, it’s highly unlikely that he just popped off.  Even Paterson, famous for popping off, would know the sensitivity here.  He wouldn’t weigh in without being sanctioned to do so.

By whom? It would have been someone who really knows the prosecutor world. It would have been someone in authority or close to those in authority. It would have been someone who knows Paterson and has the ability to work with him and get him to understand exactly what he could and couldn’t say.

In this regard, Paterson’s comments, which we’ll get to in a moment, seem very carefully considered. You can tell when Paterson is popping off because it’s usually something rambling and preposterous.  This wasn’t that. This was clear, direct and tight.

Working under the assumption that it was indeed a carefully-planned mission, let’s consider exactly what was said. It boils down to this: Preet is only interested in headlines.

This articulation is very interesting in that it begs completion: “Preet is only interested in headlines … whereas I (the person behind the person who told Paterson what to say) am interested in something else.”

Something else?  Like what? Well, the most logical completion is as follows: “Preet’s only interested in headlines, but I’m interested in … getting things done.”

Who talks like that? Cuomo. It’s his articulation, his rationale.

Of course, Cuomo set this up. He picked Paterson because, when carefully briefed, Paterson can be quite articulate. At the same time, there’s some plausible deniability because Paterson has a history of misspeaking and getting away with it. Moreover, there’s some separation here because Paterson in a political figure. He’s the current chair of the state Democratic Party.

There’s another indication of strategy here. These comments came on a Friday in a radio interview with a Binghamton station. If Paterson bungled the interview, his comments could have easily been missed. But if he nailed it, as he did, then his comments could easily be directed to statewide media – which is what happened.

Indeed, this was orchestrated pushback to Preet.  And it’s probably very close to what the Governor, himself, is really thinking, something like: “Goddamit, I’m trying to get things done and Preet, who is only interested in headlines, continues to mess things up.”

It makes a lot of sense that Cuomo and his people would think like that. They see Preet as a Schumer person, which he is. Preet’s formative years were spent with Schumer and the takeaway from that experience is both media savvy and grandstanding.

They see Preet working the New York Times.  First, there’s the rumor of an investigation in the Times. Then, there’s a confirmation of the investigation in the Times.  And then there’s an indictment is imminent story in the Times. And then, multiple additional stories, editorials and columns after the indictment – all with the same subtext –  “Preet the only one in the world who can really bring change to Albany and we’re behind him 100 percent.”

The Times posture, plus the fact that Preet is doing profile after profile, speech after speech, social appearance after social appearance must be driving Cuomo mad.

“Only interested in headlines” tells us the Cuomo mindset, and it tells us, perhaps, something more.

Think about this one: If you were being messed with to the extent that Cuomo is being messed with by Preet (prolonging and highlighting his only real misstep as governor –  the Moreland mess – and prevented him from normal functioning in office) wouldn’t you want to push back? Of course, you would. You’d be dying to do it.  But your pushback would have to be smart and it would depend on your view of your own position. This last part is critical.

If you had a sense that you or your people had serious exposure in an investigation, you say one thing. And if you believe you were innocent, you’d say another.

If, as Governor, you knew that, say Larry Schwartz had really messed up in Moreland, what would you do? You’d try to establish a narrative that would lay the groundwork for a serious challenge to Preet on grounds of authority, judgment, competence and ethics. You’d question his jurisdiction in state matters.  You’d characterize Preet’s involvement as an unprecedented intrusion by someone who doesn’t understand state government or politics. You’d say that his probes were crippling state government. You’d seize in a big way on what Judge Caproni said the other day, which is that Preet’s conduct comes close to being unethical. You could even pick up on what Ken Lovett wrote today: Growing discomfort with Preet’s prosecution of the children of state pols.

Interestingly, Paterson did none of that. In fact, he made a point of saying: “If you (Preet) find wrongdoing, by all means prosecute.” This is actually an acknowledgement of Preet’s authority, and an invitation for him to act. It was not an attack that sought to undermine him.

What to make of it all? The Paterson comments strike us as mild and overdue pushback from administration officials who think they’ve done nothing wrong and who are growing increasingly frustrated with having to live under an ethical cloud. It’s as if they are saying: “OK, Preet, you’ve had your fun, but enough is enough. Now will you please let us all get back to work? ”

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