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NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo takes seven questions for just 9 minutes about Percoco felony conviction. In NYC, he is not asked about many of the revelations from the trial. Transcript included of Q&A.
By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 14) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo took just seven questions Wednesday about the felony conviction of his former top aide Joe Percoco, found guilty Tuesday on federal corruption charges of taking $300,000 in bribes.

Speaking briefly with reporters outdoors in a New York City park where he participated in a school shooting media event, Cuomo said Percoco was an "aberration" and he was shocked to learn of the bribery charges.

He implied Percoco's crimes came about because the Legislature has not agreed to pass a law prohibiting outside income for legislators and government officials. He also expressed resignation about corruption in government, suggesting it cannot be prevented and the important thing was to "have the systems in place to catch those bad acts."

When asked about the outside income earned by his MTA chairman Joe Lhota, who is paid $1 a year, Cuomo said any ban should not apply to "volunteers." Lhota's outside employment includes a reported $300,000 a year from Madison Square Garden and $1.6 million from the NYU Hospital Center, according to the nonprofit hospital's informational tax return for 2015.

Cuomo defended allowing Percoco to work out of the Executive Chamber offices in New York City while he was on on leave to work as Cuomo's 2014 re-election campaign manager. He said he thought Percoco was coming in only "to handle transition matters." FBI testimony indicated Percoco made 837 phone calls from his state phone in an office next to Cuomo during 68 different days in 2014 when he was supposedly on leave from his job.

Reporters did not ask Cuomo about many of the most stunning details of the eight week long trial, including testimony that Percoco threatened employees who tried to leave and continued to order around top aides to the governor when he was on campaign leave. Testimony also described the steps Cuomo aides took to hide their activities, including using private email accounts to conduct state business and a recommendation to use an app called Wickr to auto-delete text messages.

Cuomo was not asked about his interactions in state offices with Percoco during the time he was on campaign leave and why Percoco was not interrogated about employment during the campaign when he returned to work in the governor's office post-election.

Cuomo also was not asked about a prosecution case that portrayed a seamy "pay to play" operation in the governor's office that included attempts to hide campaign donations from state contractors.

And while Cuomo's comments focused in large part on banning outside income, Cuomo was not asked about the money he was paid by Rupert Murdoch's book publishing company for a 2014 memoir. In his 2016 tax returns, Cuomo reported earning $738,000 on the book. The book sold just 3,200 copies.

Here is a transcript of the 9 minutes and seven questions Percoco segment of an 18 minute long press Q&A . Questions are paraphrased for clarity.

CUOMO: I also want to make a statement on Joe Percoco. The jury came back with a verdict yesterday. I respect the verdict. I was an assist district attorney. I was the attorney general of the state of New York. I respect the justice system, uh, and I respect the verdict that the jury came up with.

On a personal level this is, uh, both sad and shocking. I feel for the Percoco family. Uh, he has two young daughters who are going to have to live with this trauma and, uh, I feel for them and the pain that they are going to go through.

The, uh, behavior violates everything that my administration is about. We strive for total integrity, uh, and this is a total aberration from the people who work in the administration. I work, uh, with, uh, all sorts of people in the federal government, local government, state government and we have the finest level of state employees who I have ever worked with and, uh, this is a total aberration from that.

People will do wrong things. People will make bad and wrong decisions. Our job in government is to have the systems in place to catch those bad acts, uh, and that's the job that we have to perform. Any questions?

Q: (Good government groups say ethics reform should be at the top of the agenda and you should muscle the Assembly to act, will you do that this year?)

CUOMO: The single best ethics reform which, uh, makes everything else moot is no outside income in government. When you have a person who works in government and also gets paid on the outside for another employer, that conflict always causes problems. And the strictest ethics reform is no outside income, period. You work for government, you are a legislator, there's no outside income. And that's the reform that I've been pushing, I'm gonna continue to push. The Legislature refuses it because they believe it is a part time position. You can't be a part time legislator -- legislator

First of all it's not a part time job, they work full time. And if you are a legislator and a lawyer or a legislator and a business consultant, those relationships always pose a conflict and they have to stop. I've been pushing it for four years, I'm going to push it this year, and I'm going to make it a campaign issue this November.

Q: (What are you going to do to prevent Percoco situation from occurring again? Also what about Joe Lhota holding outside jobs when he is your head of the MTA?)

CUOMO: There's a difference between people who are serving on boards and don't get paid by government who basically volunteer their service. If they volunteer their service, uh, then of course they have a separate job because they have to feed their family. But there are conflict rules that apply in that situation also.

Uh, when the situation with Mr. Percoco first came up, which was about two years ago, we reviewed both our exit and entrance policies to government so that when you leave government you leave, period, and all the connections are severed. People know you are no longer a government employee. You don't have that authority, uh, and when you enter government we're going to have a more thorough review of past relationships to see if they pose any particular conflict. But look, in this case existing rules were broken. It's not that we didn't have rules. We had rules and the rules were broken, uh, and that was -- that was this situation. It's not that there was an omission in the policy, it was a violation of the policy.

Q: (Are you comfortable with Lhota's situation?)

CUOMO: I'm comfortable that he has, uh, conflict rules and regulations that he is abiding by.

Q: (What do you say to critics who tie you to this crime personally, Republicans especially in the campaign?)

CUOMO: I say to them, Marcia, uh, look at the facts, right. We're in the political silly season and people can say whatever they want to say, but there are still facts. This was a two year trial and investigation. There was absolutely no suggestion ever made that, uh, I had anything to do with anything, right. An exhaustive investigation, an exhaustive trial and there was never any suggestion about any involvement by me. So when they raise political garbage, an insightful reporter like you will say, "but that's not the fact because we covered the trial and the governor's, uh, involvement, uh, was never mentioned, his name was never mentioned."

Q: (How did you feel about this at the beginning when you found out about this and you were called into the U.S. Attorney's Office?)

CUOMO: You know, Marcia, when I first heard about it, I was shocked, I was just shocked, uh, and I, I've had emotions over this for the past two years, uh, I'm shocked about the behavior. I'm sad for his family, he has two young daughters. I have three daughters. His daughters will have to have, uh, gone through this experience and go to school and deal with it and they'll have to deal with it going forward, uh, it's also a violation of everything my adminis -- my administration stands for. We strive for total integrity. I've dedicated my life to public service. My father dedicated his life to public service and you can agree or disagree with my positions but, uh, the integrity is paramount. And I also, uh, my entire administration, uh, has been hurt on a personal level because this is the finest group of people I've worked with. Many of them are former prosecutors and this is, uh, the exact opposite of everything they represent. So it has been a painful process across the board.

Q: (When Percoco left state government, did you know he was still working in the governor's office?)

CUOMO: When he left state government, he would come back into the office to handle transition matters. He was there for a very long time. He was an important position and he would come back and he was handling the transition, uh, which is fine, uh, but there should be no other work done from a government office besides that transition work and in the trial there was a suggestion that there was and that's a violation of the rules.

Q: (Did you know he was still doing state government work at that time?)

CUOMO: He was. I believe he was doing transition work, yes.

(Questioning then returned to guns and the student protests, the campaign, NYCHA)