New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reportedly threatened to ‘destroy’ a local lawmaker’s career unless he issued a statement “covering up” what a top aide to the governor said last week in a stunning and news-making conference call with Democrat lawmakers. Three additional Democratic lawmakers also say they were threatened by the Cuomo administration, according to CNN.
They reportedly came forward “under the condition of anonymity because they were afraid of retribution from the governor.”
Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa admitted privately to the Democrat lawmakers during the call last Wednesday, 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.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, a left-wing Democrat who represents Queens, was one of the Democrats who participated in that conference call.
The lawmaker told The Post 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.”
According to CNN, Cuomo has launched “an aggressive effort to contain political fallout” from revelations that Gov. Cuomo’s administration drastically undercounted nursing home deaths in the state while concealing the full extent of nursing home-related deaths from Covid.
Kim told CNN that he took a call on his cell phone from the irate governor last week while he was giving his children a bath at home.
“Gov. Cuomo called me directly on Thursday to threaten my career if I did not cover up for Melissa [DeRosa] and what she said. He tried to pressure me to issue a statement, and it was a very traumatizing experience,” Kim said.
According to the assemblyman, Cuomo went on to tell him ominously, “we’re in this business together and we don’t cross certain lines and he said I hadn’t seen his wrath and that he can destroy me.”
Kim explained why the phone call with Cuomo was so “traumatizing. “No man has ever spoken to me like that in my entire life,” Kim told CNN. “At some point he tried to humiliate me, asking: ‘Are you a lawyer? I didn’t think so. You’re not a lawyer.’ It almost felt like in retrospect he was trying to bait me and anger me and say something inappropriate. I’m glad I didn’t.”
A Cuomo adviser denied that the governor threatened to destroy Kim.
But Kim’s wife corroborated Kim’s story to CNN, explaining that had overheard parts of the conversation, which she described as “loud” and “angry.”
She told CNN she heard Cuomo say, “Who do you think you are?” as well as the words, “my wrath,” and that immediately after the phone call, her husband told her: “The governor threatened to destroy my life.”
Cuomo’s efforts to reach Kim appeared to continue through the weekend. Kim said he received multiple calls from a “No Caller ID” number, followed by messages from Cuomo aides saying that the governor would like to speak with him again. Kim said he did not return the phone calls. He has since hired a lawyer, telling CNN that he believed this was necessary following Cuomo’s first call which made him feel that the governor had asked him to lie about what had happened in last week’s virtual call. He said he has informed the governor’s office that any outreach should be made through his counsel.
When CNN first reached out to Cuomo’s office for comment for this story on Tuesday, communications director Peter Ajemian did not directly respond to or deny Kim’s allegation of threats from the governor in a written statement. Late Tuesday, Ajemian said the office would send a clarifying statement. Ultimately, the office sent a statement from senior adviser Rich Azzopardi late Wednesday morning that said: “Kim’s assertion that the governor said he would ‘destroy him’ is false.”
“The Governor has three witnesses to the conversation. The operable words were to the effect of, ‘I am from Queens, too, and people still expect honor and integrity in politics,'” Azzopardi said.
Around the same time that Azzopardi’s statement was sent to CNN, Cuomo began a previously scheduled press conference call on the coronavirus, and discussed his office’s “long and hostile relationship” with Kim.
Cuomo said Kim’s political animus dates back to a 2015 bill to reform nail salons that the governor proposed and that Kim initially backed, but later opposed. Cuomo cited a New York Times report from that year that examined financial contribution’s that Kim received after he flipped his position. In that article, a top Cuomo aide was critical of Kim.
Kim said on Wednesday that he “100%” stood by his allegation that Cuomo had threatened to destroy him. He said he did not recall Cuomo making a specific reference to Queens, but that Cuomo had asked him last week on the phone, “Mr. Kim, are you an honorable man?” before proceeding to suggest that the honorable thing for Kim to do would be to put out a statement of support.
Kim also shot down Cuomo’s suggestion that “he had ulterior motives” for criticizing the governor’s handling of the Covid nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
“There’s no undoing here. They have blood on their hands,” Kim said. “We’re talking about his record of performance in the last 10 months.”
Azzopardi’s statement also said that Cuomo had called Kim last week to take issue with Kim’s comments in the initial New York Post story, suggested that Kim issue a new statement and that the assemblyman had agreed to do so. When no statement came, Azzopardi said, Cuomo’s office followed up and did not get a response.
According to CNN, three other Democratic New York lawmakers, speaking under the condition of anonymity out of retribution from the governor, claimed they too received fierce pushback and even threats from Cuomo and his top aides since last week.
They said the administration had aggressively lobbied legislators to speak up in support of his handling of the nursing homes-related deaths, and that threats were made against those who are considering a vote to strip Cuomo of his emergency powers.
All three legislators said they were aware of outreach from the governor in which he clearly suggested or explicitly threatened political retaliation if they did not stand by him. One of them, a New York state senator who said they had not been contacted by Cuomo but heard directly from multiple colleagues whom Cuomo had reached out to, said the governor threatened those colleagues with retaliation — including warning some that he could ruin their political careers if they supported weakening Cuomo’s executive powers.
The governor’s office did not deny allegations that Cuomo, who is up for reelection next year, threatened the other New York legislators.
In a written statement to CNN, Ajemian, the Cuomo communications director, said: “The threats here came from some legislators who, according to a media report, threatened to use subpoenas and investigations as leverage in the budget process,” he said.