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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

U.S. Attorney Denies Trying Silver in Press

MANHATTAN (CN) - Ex-New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver tried to redeem a reputation stained by his corruption charges through a "calculated effort to malign the U.S. Attorney," a scorching new government brief states.

In the brief, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office confronted allegations that statements to the press created a "media firestorm" that made it impossible for Silver to get a fair trial over allegations that he made more than $6 million corruptly.

Through "distortions and omissions," Silver embarked on a "transparent attempt to distract this court and the public from the serious charges," Bharara's office said.

Hours before Silver's Jan. 21 arrest, the New York Daily News and other outlets caught wind of a criminal complaint against him in reports that cited "law enforcement sources."

Denying that any leaks came from his office, Bharara's office noted that initial reports had been thin on details.

"The very newspaper articles cited by the defendant in support of this claim in fact specified that '[d]etails of the specific charges to be brought against Mr. Silver were unclear on Wednesday night,' and that spokesmen for both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office 'declined to comment,'" the brief states.

The afternoon after these articles came out, Bharara announced the unsealing of that complaint at a press conference. The papers revealed how prosecutors believed Silver disguised millions in bribes and kickbacks as legitimate income from asbestos litigation and real-estate referrals from a private law practice.

Since late 2002, two law firms paid Silver more than $6 million. $5.3 million came from Weitz & Luxenberg alone, prosecutors say.

During the press conference, Bharara used variations of the word "alleged" at least 25 times and in references to the complaint and charges no fewer than 35 times, by his office's count.

Silver's attorney, Steven Molo, also faulted Bharara for bringing the subject up again the next day at a speech before New York Law School and another time during a Feb. 10 interview on MSNBC.

Since the grand jury did not indict Silver for another week, Molo told a federal judge that "there was no purpose [for Bharara's remarks] but to prejudice the grand jury and the jury that will hear this case."

But the government's brief states that he did not offer an opinion on Silver's guilt in either case.

"The MSNBC interview covered a wide range of topics, including terrorism, financial crimes, reform of the Rikers Island prison facility, and public corruption," the brief states.

Bharara said it was his obligation to broach these topics publicly.

"In light of the DOJ's mission and the multitude of public corruption convictions in New York, the majority of which were obtained in cases brought by this office, it is squarely within the role and duty of the U.S. Attorney, as the chief federal law enforcement officer in this district, to speak out about the causes of public corruption and potential means of combating it," the brief states. "The U.S. Attorney's comments about the underlying causes of public corruption are no different than his comments about the causes of gang violence in Newburgh, the heroin and prescription pill epidemic, securities fraud on Wall Street, or civil rights abuses on Rikers Island."

Silver's lawyers declined to comment on the filing.

"We'll reply fully in our reply brief," lawyer Joel Cohen said in an email.

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