ALBANY, N.Y. (WROC/WETM) — According to a report released by the New York Post Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers during a phone call for allegedly withholding the state’s nursing home death toll from COVID-19.
The report claims Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said they “froze” out of fear that the true numbers would be “used against them” by federal prosecutors.
“Basically, we froze,” DeRosa told lawmakers on the call. “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.”
On Friday, DeRosa released the following statement commenting on her call with lawmakers:
“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. We informed the houses of this at the time. 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. As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.”
It is important to note that the information DOJ requested is different from the information that the State legislature requested.
August 3: New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker testifies before the NYS Legislature regarding COVID-19 and nursing homes/long term care facilities
August 20: Assembly and Senate each send letters to DOH with follow up questions seeking additional information
August 26: DOJ sends letter request to Democratic governors about nursing home fatalities
September: Governor’s Office asks legislative leaders to pause our response time to the August 20 letters so the administration can first resolve the DOJ inquiry
October 28: DOJ sends additional letter inquiry re nursing homes
Thanksgiving/early December – second COVID wave in NYS begins
December 11: Pfizer vaccine approved
December 14: first vaccine delivery to NYS
In a statement Friday, Rochester-area New York State Sen. Samra Brouk (D-55) called for re-evaluating emergency powers from the governor:
“The people of New York State and the 55th District deserve and demand transparency around the impact of COVID-19 on our communities. What we have learned about the governor’s handling of nursing home data is unacceptable. The emergency powers that had been granted to the governor to manage this pandemic are no longer needed and must be re-evaluated immediately. The legislature must act to re-establish proper legislative oversight of the governor’s actions and deliver honest, open leadership to our state.”
Another Rochester-area lawmaker, State Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D-56), also expressed outrage by the New York Post report in a Friday morning statement:
“I am outraged by the revelations from last night’s New York Post Article. Every day my office receives calls from Rochester families who are worried about their loved ones in nursing homes. Especially during a pandemic, it is crucial that the public have the utmost trust in their public health officials. This trust has been broken. New Yorkers deserve to know the truth. The Senate must act. We need transparent hearings to hold those who misled the public accountable.“
Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt also released a statement regarding the report:
“The news today that Governor Cuomo’s top aide admitted to deliberately withholding information about COVID-19 deaths is the latest in a string of disturbing acts of corruption by his administration. This is clearly a gross obstruction of justice. 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: Governor Cuomo controls every aspect of his administration with an obsessive attention to detail. I am again calling that Governor Cuomo and his administration be investigated from top to bottom and that he 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.
If the Governor is involved, he should be immediately removed from office.“
When reached for comment, officials from the governor’s office said:
“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,” said Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi. “That said, we were working simultaneously to complete the audit of information they were asking for.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.