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Lawyer Denies Passing Rumors on Cuomo

Times Staff Writer

The veteran counsel to a key New York state senate committee refused Wednesday to apologize for disseminating potentially damaging information about Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, saying that he had not spread rumors but only gave a reporter leads that turned out to be false.

Jeremiah B. McKenna, counsel to the Republican-controlled Senate Crime and Correction Committee, said an apology that the committee’s chairman had sent to Cuomo--at Cuomo’s behest--was unnecessary and that he was not the source of false rumors about Cuomo’s father-in-law and untrue rumors about loose associations the governor had with organized crime figures.

The controversy has drawn attention because Cuomo is mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate and because it goes to the heart of the sensitive relationship between investigative journalists and political sources in the 1988 campaign. Although many Democrats have urged him to run, Cuomo has said repeatedly he will not be a candidate, but would be available in the unlikely event the party turns to him in a draft at the Democratic National Convention.

McKenna told a Manhattan news conference Wednesday that he had spoken with Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote an article in the Nov. 2 issue of New York Magazine concluding that he was unable to find any truth to rumors that Cuomo, while a lawyer in Queens, had links to mobsters and his father-in-law had ties to organized crime.

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“He (Pileggi) came to me looking for leads,” McKenna said. “I was not the source of the rumors. Someone else was.” He said he only provided him with potential sources and leads.

In his article, Pileggi attributed the rumors to an unnamed legislative aide. The New York Post recently identified the aide as McKenna. Pileggi confirmed that the aide was McKenna.

McKenna said when he agreed to meet with Pileggi the understanding was the committee was never to be cited nor was he to be quoted without permission.

Pileggi, a veteran New York investigative reporter, said Wednesday that McKenna had provided him with new material in addition to the information he solicited. He said the leads were checked with the understanding that McKenna and the committee would remain anonymous sources.

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But Pileggi said when he found the leads were not true, he called McKenna back. Pileggi said he told the committee’s counsel “none of his stuff was holding up . . . and what was he going to do about it?”

“He just laughed, which struck me as not very responsible,” Pileggi charged. He said McKenna didn’t want to be identified by name or as a GOP source, but finally agreed to the journalistic nomenclature of “legislative aide.”

On Tuesday, McKenna’s boss, State Sen. Christopher J. Mega, wrote Cuomo a highly unusual letter of apology.

“As one who shares your sense of outrage against any person or group that, consciously or not, spreads false rumors about an individual, or pursues a line of investigation not grounded in truth or fact, I wish to join you in publicly condemning such tactics whenever and wherever they are practiced,” the Republican senator told the Democratic governor.

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Researcher Eileen V. Quigley also contributed to this story.


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