Cuomo faces rising scrutiny over COVID-19 nursing home deaths
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is facing mounting scrutiny over his handling of COVID-19 nursing home deaths after revelations that a top aide said officials “froze” providing information about the deaths after questions from the Department of Justice (DOJ) last year.
The remarks have set off a renewed firestorm over Cuomo’s handling of the deaths and whether his administration sought to cover up details. They also undermine the star profile the governor developed on the national level at the start of the pandemic as he gave signature daily press conferences and sparred with then-President Trump.
The Cuomo aide, Melissa DeRosa, said on a conference call with state legislators that the freeze in providing information came “because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”
The comments were first reported by The New York Post on Thursday night and later confirmed by the governor’s office, which released a partial transcript of the remarks as well as a statement from DeRosa.
“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first,” she said in the statement.
“We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout,” she added. “As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked.”
The comments on the call have set off criticism even from some Democrats in the state.
“This is a betrayal of the public trust,” tweeted state Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D). “There needs to be full accountability for what happened, and the legislature needs to reconsider its broad grant of emergency powers to the governor.”
State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D) asserted that Cuomo “allowed his ego and his donor base to dictate the response to this pandemic” while calling for him to be subpoenaed and lose his emergency powers.
“This news is another slap in the face to the many New Yorkers still grieving the loss of their loved ones across our state,” she said in a statement.
On a national level, congressional Republicans have been hammering Cuomo over the nursing home deaths for months, and increased their intensity after the latest revelations.
All eight Republican members of Congress from New York on Friday released a joint statement calling for the Justice Department to open an investigation into Cuomo’s handling of the issue.
“The mountain of evidence, lies, and criminal conduct cannot be ignored any longer,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said in a statement.
“The Biden Department of Justice must conduct an independent and thorough investigation into Governor Cuomo, Secretary DeRosa, and New York State. Regardless of our party affiliation, we should all be able to agree such an investigation is an essential step if we are going to achieve justice for the thousands of grieving New York families,” he added.
Cuomo had already taken a hit on the issue at the end of January, when New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) released a report finding that the state appeared to undercount nursing home deaths by approximately 50 percent.
The state attorney general said that Cuomo’s administration had not counted nursing home residents who had died of COVID-19 after being transferred to hospitals for treatment. James’s report found that the total nursing home death toll was closer to 13,000 as opposed to the 8,600 reported by the state.
The report also found that a Cuomo administration policy early in the pandemic to prevent nursing homes from turning away COVID-19 positive patients “may have contributed to increased risk of nursing home resident infection, and subsequent fatalities.”
Cuomo was at the White House on Friday to take part in a meeting with President Biden with other governors and mayors on coronavirus relief.
Asked if Biden has confidence in Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the meeting was “not to give anyone a stamp of approval” but instead to “discuss the urgency of passing the American Rescue Plan,” Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Friday called for a “full accounting of what happened.”