Mayor Adams, top aides refuse to answer pressing questions on the FBI probe of his campaign

Mayor Eric Adams and top administration officials offer few new details on the FBI investigation into his campaign when hit with a barrage of questions during a press conference. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Mayor Eric Adams and top administration officials offered few answers during a Tuesday press conference to a barrage of pressing questions surrounding a federal investigation into whether his 2021 campaign colluded with the Turkish government to funnel illegal donations into its coffers.

The news briefing, which the mayor now holds every Tuesday, marked the first time he has invited questions from the press since it was revealed late last week that the FBI had seized two of his phones and an iPad on Nov. 6. That followed federal agents raiding the Brooklyn home of the mayor’s chief fundraiser — Brianna Suggs — the week before, as part of the investigation helmed by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

Throughout the briefing, Adams and his top aides provided few details about the probe and repeated numerous times that it is an ongoing investigation. They said they did not want the case to be litigated in the press.

“This is an ongoing review and as a former member of law enforcement it is always my belief, don’t interfere with an ongoing review and don’t try to do these reviews through the press,” Adams said. “Whatever the reviewers are looking for, we are fully cooperating with it. And my role is to allow them to do their job without interference.”

Neither Adams nor anyone on his campaign team have been accused of wrongdoing. And his City Hall chief counsel Lisa Zornberg said there is “no indication, that I’ve seen, that the mayor is a target.”

Much is still unknown about the federal investigation, but some details have come to light through a series of published reports. It has been revealed the feds are looking into whether Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign conspired with the Turkish government to receive illegal foreign donations via a Brooklyn-based construction firm — KSK Construction Group — and a Turkish-owned University in Washington D.C. — Bay Atlantic University.

But while the mayor addressed some questions about the investigation himself, most were intercepted by Zornberg — who herself is a former SDNY prosecutor.

Mayor Eric Adams chief counsel Lisa Zornberg (left).Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

One of those questions regarded an unnamed individual whom Adams’ attorney Boyd Johnson said had been found to have acted improperly.The campaign then informed the FBI about the individual, Johnson added.

But when asked by amNewYork Metro if the individual was Suggs or someone else on the campaign, Zornberg jumped in and refused to identify them.

“We’re gonna be very disciplined, there’s a matter that’s under investigation, we at City Hall have the same goal as SDNY,” Zornberg said. “And that is: they have work to do, let them see it through, so that justice can prevail.”

Zornberg also seemed to suggest the mayor’s gadgets were taken by the feds as a result of his campaign reporting the individual alleged to have acted improperly to them.

“All that I’m willing to tell you and this is basically all that I’m willing to say is that, first of all, we’re fully cooperative, we’ve been proactively cooperative,” Zornberg said. “And following proactive outreach to the investigators, they determined that access to certain of the mayor’s devices was accessible, was advisable and we of course complied and gave access.”

Both Adams and Zornberg also refused to say if anyone else on his campaign team was asked to hand over their devices to federal investigators.

The mayor also responded to questions on reporting by the New York Times and New York Post over the weekend that the feds are looking into whether he used his influence after winning the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary, while he was still Brooklyn Borough President, to expedite building approvals for a Midtown Turkish consulate building that opened that year. The FBI is looking into correspondence between the mayor and Daniel Nigro — the FDNY commissioner at the time — during the summer of 2021 about getting the site — known as the Turkevi Center — open more speedily.

The Fire Department initially rejected the Turkish government’s fire protection plan for the building that summer, according to the reports, but changed its tune after Nigro communicated with Adams and granted it a temporary certificate of occupancy. The move allowed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cut the ribbon on the building just days later, when he was in the city for the United Nations General Assembly.

When asked about the incident on Tuesday, Adams said he did not know of Erdogan’s planned visit when he reached out to Nigro. He also insisted that by contacting the FDNY commissioner he was simply advocating for his constituents as Brooklyn borough president — due to Brooklyn’s sizable Turkish population.

“You reach out to an agency and ask them to look into a matter, you don’t reach out to an agency to compel them to do anything because I had no authority to do so, I was the Brooklyn borough president,” Adams said. “So yes, I reached out to the commissioner to assist, to find out what was happening and ask him to look at that.”