Governor Cuomo’s top aide admitted privately to Democrat lawmakers that the Cuomo administration withheld the number of COVID-19 nursing-home deaths in the state out of concern that the true numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors, The New York Post reported Thursday night.
Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa made the stunning admission during a two-hour-plus video conference call on Wednesday with state Democratic leaders, in which she blamed former president Trump for the Cuomo administration’s evasiveness. In reaction to the bombshell report, some Republican lawmakers are now demanding that the governor be prosecuted.
New York Attorney General Letitia James alleged in a damning report from last month that Gov. Cuomo’s administration drastically undercounted nursing home deaths in the state.
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker released figures showing that as of Wednesday, the total number of nursing home deaths in the state was 13,297. The Post reported that the number “jumps to 15,049 when assisted living/adult care facilities are factored in.”
The DOH had previously publicly acknowledged only 8,711 deaths in N.Y. nursing homes, according to the Post.
DeRosa reportedly said the administration stonewalled a legislative request for the accurate death toll last August because “right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football,” according to an audio recording of the meeting.
“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”
Gov. Cuomo and other Democrat governors forced nursing homes to accept COVID patients back into their facilities despite the likelihood that those patients would still be contagious and would spread the virus to the other residents .
In an attempt to rationalize the Cuomo regime’s duplicitous behavior, DeRosa told the lawmakers that they felt intimidated after Trump directed “the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us.”
“Basically, we froze,” she explained. “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.”
DeRosa added: “That played a very large role into this.”
She then reportedly asked the fellow Democrats for “a little bit of appreciation of the context” and offered an apology of sorts on behalf of the Cuomo administration—but not to the grieving family members of the more than 13,000 dead seniors who perished due to the administration’s gross mishandling of the state’s nursing homes amid the pandemic.
No, DeRosa offered a mea culpa to the Democrat lawmakers for the political inconvenience the administration caused by their deadly malfeasance.
“So we do apologize,” she said. “I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.”
To their credit, not all of the Democrats on the line were impressed with DeRosea’s dissembling.
Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) immediately rejected DeRosa’s expression of remorse, according to the recording.
“I don’t have enough time today to explain all the reasons why I don’t give that any credit at all,” said Gottfried, one of the lawmakers who demanded the death-toll data in August.
State Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Rachel May (D-Syracuse) — who was battered during her re-election bid last year over the issue of nursing-home deaths — also ripped into DeRosa, saying her former opponent had launched another broadside earlier in the day.
“And the issue for me, the biggest issue of all is feeling like I needed to defend — or at least not attack — an administration that was appearing to be covering something up,” she said.
“And in a, in a pandemic, when you want the public to trust the public-health officials, and there is this clear feeling that they’re not coming, being forthcoming with you, that is really hard and it remains difficult.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), who took part in the call, told The Post on Thursday that DeRosa’s remarks sounded “like they admitted that they were trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence that might put the administration or the [Health Department] in further trouble with the Department of Justice.”
“That’s how I understand their reasoning of why they were unable to share, in real time, the data,” Kim said. “They had to first make sure that the state was protected against federal investigation.”
Kim, whose uncle is presumed to have died of COVID-19 in a nursing home in April, also said he wasn’t satisfied with DeRosa’s apology.
“It’s not enough how contrite they are with us,” he said. “They need to show that to the public and the families — and they haven’t done that.”
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a prepared statement, “We explained that the Trump administration was in the midst of a politically motivated effort to blame democratic states for COVID deaths and that we were cooperating with Federal document productions and that was the priority and now that it is over we can address the state legislature.”
“That said, we were working simultaneously to complete the audit of information they were asking for,” he added.
Now that the Biden Administration controls the Department of Justice, the matter has apparently been dropped.
“All signs point to they are not looking at this, they’ve dropped it,” DeRosa told the lawmakers on the call.
“They never formally opened an investigation. They sent a letter asking a number of questions and then we satisfied those questions and it appears that they’re gone,” she said.
Cuomo hid COVID death data and ran out the clock on the investigation by the Trump DOJ.
And it looks like the Biden DOJ rewarded him by dropping the civil rights investigation entirely.
— Techno Fog (@Techno_Fog) February 12, 2021
Gov. Cuomo last fall went on a self-congratulatory book tour to promote his book American Crisis, which detailed his “successful” response to the pandemic.
Additionally, the International Emmy Awards in November presented Cuomo with the International Emmy® Founders Award, “in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.”
Republican lawmakers in New York reacted swiftly to the New York Post’s bombshell report.
“This is clearly a gross obstruction of justice,” Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said in a statement Thursday. “Instead of apologizing or providing answers to the thousands of New York families who lost loved ones, the Governor’s administration made apologies to politicians behind closed doors for the ‘political inconvenience’ this scandal has caused them.”
There is no need to deny what everyone in Albany and around New York State already knows: Gov. Cuomo controls every aspect of his administration with an obsessive attention to detail,” he added. “I am again calling that Gov. Cuomo and his administration be investigated from top to bottom and that he be stripped of his emergency powers.
Ortt added that the governor should be removed from office if he “is involved in the withholding of information.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik said that Cuomo, DeRosa and the Cuomo admission should be “prosecuted immediately” by both the state Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice.
— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) February 12, 2021
This bombshell admission of a coverup and the remarks by the Secretary to the Governor indicating intent to obstruct any federal investigation is a stunning and criminal abuse of power,” Stefanik said in a statement Thursday night. “I have said from the beginning that this is more than a nursing home scandal, this is a massive corruption and coverup scandal at the highest level of New York State Government implicating the Governor, the Secretary to the Governor, the New York State Health Commissioner and the Governor’s staff.
The families who lost loved ones, New Yorkers, and all Americans deserve accountability from the U.S. Department of Justice that will be independent and not swayed by the desperate political pressure from Governor Cuomo.
Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay, R-Pulaski, said the Post report was “hardly surprising, but there must be accountability.”
“This administration intentionally withheld information from the public, from the press, from lawmakers and from the thousands of families who lost loved ones,” he said in a statement Thursday night. “This is why closed-door conversations won’t cut it. If this episode doesn’t make it painfully obvious that we need to issue subpoenas and hold public hearings, I don’t know what will.”