New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo faces new allegations that he and his aides covered up the death toll in nursing homes in the state amid the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reports.

What happened

Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRose, reportedly said in private remarks that “basically, we froze” after the Trump administration’s Department of Justice asked for information about the nursing home death toll numbers in the state, the New York Post reports. She said the New York Legislature filed similar requests.

  • She said the team held off from sending numbers because Cuomo’s team wasn’t sure how they would be used.
  • “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, and what we start saying, was going to be used against us and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa told lawmakers, according to The New York Times.
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Per The New York Times, DeRose later walked back the statement, saying she was trying to say that “we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first.”

  • She said the Cuomo administration was “comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout.”

Reaction

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, wrote in a statement:

  • “Governor Cuomo, the Secretary to the Governor, and his senior team must be prosecuted immediately — both by the Attorney General of New York State and the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • “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.”
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New York Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara, said in a tweet:

  • “Governor Cuomo and his administration must be investigated from top to bottom and he must be stripped of his emergency powers. Justice needs to be brought for the grieving families who have been ignored to protect Governor Cuomo and his Democrat allies in the Legislature.”

Per Newsweek, 14 Democratic state senators joined a call “for a repeal of the governor’s authority to issue unilateral directives.”

  • “Without exception, the New York State Constitution calls for the Legislature to govern as a co-equal branch of government,” the senators said in a statement. “While COVID-19 has tested the limits of our people and state — and, early during the pandemic, required the government to restructure decision making to render rapid, necessary public health judgements — it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the governor are no longer appropriate.”

Bigger picture

The report comes as Cuomo has faced heavy criticism for how his COVID-19 policies might have impacted nursing home residents, according to Bloomberg.

  • On Feb. 3, New York Supreme Court judge ordered that the state health department release data that revealed the number of deaths among nursing home patients was higher than previously believed, according to Bloomberg.
  • State Attorney General Letitia James accused Cuomo’s team of undercounting COVID-19 deaths by about 50%.