New York governor Andrew Cuomo's office dismisses FBI probe as 'charade'

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Saturday, December 9, 2017
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Gov. Cuomo's office is defending its hiring practices.

ALBANY, New York -- The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended its hiring practices Friday amid scrutiny by the FBI, dismissing an investigation into a common practice in which senior staffers to the governor are paid by another state agency.

The administration received a subpoena for documents months ago and is cooperating, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. New York governors, presidents from both parties and even the U.S. Department of Justice all have used similar staffing methods going back decades, he said.

"In this environment, anyone can ask about anything," Azzopardi said. "Given that the federal Department of Justice and the White House have a long history of utilizing this practice, perhaps the FBI can investigate them when this is charade is over."

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment.

The investigation, which was first reported Friday by The Albany Times-Union, centers on the administration's use of top staffers who were hired to work for the governor, but who on paper were listed as working for other state agencies. That's a move that makes the Democrat's staff and budget look smaller than they really are.

Azzopardi said the process is lawful and noted that all the agencies whose payrolls are being used to pay staffers are within the executive branch.

Good-government groups have long criticized state officials for what they say is a lack of transparency when it comes to state employment spending. Brandon Muir, executive director of the group Reclaim New York, welcomed the FBI's interest in what he called "Albany's sleight of hand. With taxpayer money."

New Yorkers deserve honesty, transparency and accountability from their government, even if it means this type of law enforcement involvement," he said.

Cuomo is seeking a third term as governor in next year and is considered a potential White House contender in 2020.