The heat is on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he attempts to counter the fallout from both sides of the aisle over his handling of COVID-19 cases in the state’s nursing homes.
Some state Democrats have joined in the cacophony of Republican voices expressing outrage over Cuomo’s administration underreporting and subsequent coverup of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths in New York.
The federal government is now planning to launch a probe into the scandal that has turned Cuomo from an Emmy award-winning national figure touted for his daily COVID-19 briefings complete with power-point slides to a pariah facing scorn for his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
In response, an investigation into Cuomo’s handling of the nursing home and pandemic has been opened up by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Every day, we see more erratic behavior and additional deception by a Cuomo administration that spirals out of control, continuing to cover up its mishandling of COVID-19 deaths in our nursing homes,” Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said. "Transparency by this Administration has gone out the door. I am grateful to see our repeated calls for a federal investigation have been answered.”
The federal probe into the Cuomo administration will examine how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic in nursing homes and long-term care facilities after more than 10,000 reportedly died from the virus.
In the early stages of the investigation, investigators are expected to focus on some senior members of Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force.
Ortt said that if the investigation reveals obstruction, the Legislature may look to move toward impeachment.
“The stonewalling and withholding of nursing home data is just one example in a litany of failures including the Administration’s inept administration of vaccines, the mass resignations of key staff at the Department of Health, and recently emerging news about disparities among the demographics that have received the vaccine,” he said. “There is a growing cloud over the Cuomo Administration.”
Investigators have already reportedly been in contact with Cuomo’s administration about the inquiry.
Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi responded to the federal investigation into the governor’s administration, stating: “As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to.”
Democratic State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said that Cuomo has displayed a “disturbing pattern of behavior” and has been deflecting blame and attempting to evade accountability, citing his handling of Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim, whom the governor allegedly threatened to “destroy.”
“Kim has been a north star in the fight for transparency and justice for those lost to COVID-19 in nursing homes,” Biaggi said. “Gov. Cuomo’s statements today about Assemblymember Kim are part of a disturbing pattern of behavior from the governor. Instead of accepting responsibility for mistakes, the governor has chosen to deflect blame and evade accountability time and time again.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled down on Biaggi’s statement, saying he believed Kim's account of the conversation with Cuomo "100 percent."
“It's a sad thing to say, but that's classic Andrew Cuomo," he said on MSNBC. "A lot of people in New York state have received those phone calls. The bullying is nothing new.
“I believe Ron Kim and it's very, very sad, no public servant no person who's telling the truth should be treated that way.
“The threats, the belittling, the demand that someone change their statement right that moment. ... Many many times I've heard that and I know a lot of other people in this state have heard that.”
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De Blasio, who has a contentious relationship with the governor, said that the federal probe into Cuomo’s administration was necessary.
“The notion that information was held back for political convenience instead of the blunt truth coming out so we could save lives? Something's profoundly wrong there,” he said.
With his administration under fire, Cuomo could be stripped of his emergency powers that were granted at the outset of the pandemic as soon as next week by the Senate.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, the Democratic chairman of the health committee, said that the time had come for the Legislature to take action, “hopefully sooner than later.”
“We need to remind them that state government is not one big branch: There’s three of them,” he said.
That comes days after 14 Democratic senators issued a joint statement calling for the removal of the governor’s emergency powers.
“Without exception, the New York State Constitution calls for the Legislature to govern as a co-equal branch of government,” they wrote 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 judgments, it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the governor are no longer appropriate.
“While the executive’s authority to issue directives is due to expire on April 30, we urge the Senate to advance and adopt a repeal as expeditiously as possible.”
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