Four crooks down, many more to go.
That’s the tally so far this year as corruption cases go to trial and re-trial in New York courts with many high-profile convictions.
This is not another editorial about the failure of the Legislature to respond to this embarrassing situation. Nobody in the Legislature seems to care and voters keep sending the same people back to Albany, the ones who were buddy-buddy with our newest felons yet never seem to think that we need to change relevant laws or procedures.
No, this is about the only real chance we have to clean up after the fact because nobody will do anything to prevent such crimes. And it is a tale with a surprising amount of optimism because only a year or so ago, it looked like the crooks would win.
Two developments were the most worrisome.
The person who had the necessary zeal and skills to clean up government corruption, Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District, was fired by President Trump in 2017. Bharara was taken by surprise because he thought that he had received a promise from the president that he would be re-appointed and had said as much. Given all we now know — even given what we knew than, for that matter — it was unlikely that Trump would leave an aggressive and capable prosecutor in place in New York where so much of his suspicious behavior took place and where so many of his records would tempt investigation.
That office has been held by many names you recognize because of what they did as prosecutors and what they did after. The list includes Robert Morgenthau, Rudy Giuliani, James Comey and Bahara.
Now, it’s held by whatsisname.
The other depressing development came a year earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the conviction of Virginia Gov. Bob McDowell on corruption charges. The justices decided it was no longer enough to engage in behavior that looked like and sounded like and smelled like corruption. You needed something akin to a receipt, something on the record that identified a bribe as a bribe, not just a favor between friends, and a significant amount of public money expended in return, not just things that an official could say were merely part of the job.
That decision was enough to overturn original convictions of New York’s top two crooks, Democrat Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Assembly, and Republican Dean Skelos, leader of the Senate majority.
If their retrials had followed the depressing pattern of the one involving the former leader of that Republican majority, Joe Bruno, both would be freed and able to resume their lucrative political careers.
But both were found guilty in the retrials and in the meantime we have seen two people close to Gov. Cuomo convicted, at least for now.
So while it is tempting to make ethics reform a part of this campaign year, to once again ask candidates to promise to care and act, we can save both time and anxiety by relying on courts and prosecutors to keep it up and do what legislators will not.