Pages

Friday, 2 April 2021

Cuomo 'begged' his top aide Melissa DeRosa to stay after she threatened to resign the day after the nursing home scandal broke, state lawmaker says

 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ‘begged’ his top aide not to resign after it was learned that she admitted his administration intentionally withheld data on COVID-19 nursing home deaths, it has been claimed.

Melissa DeRosa, who is secretary to the governor, offered to quit in February after she was recorded in secret audio telling Democrats that Cuomo aides withheld the actual nursing home death toll, according to New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim.

‘It’s my understanding Melissa wanted to resign February 12 - the day after the scandal broke of her admitting there was an obstruction of justice in her administration,’ Kim, the Queens lawmaker and Cuomo critic, told WRGB-TV.

In a remarkable confession made during a conference call with state Democrats, obtained by The New York Post on February 11, DeRosa admitted that officials 'froze' in August when former President Donald Trump's Department of Justice asked for the data, before rebuffing the request. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, are pictured above in New York City in January 2017
Melissa DeRosa, secretary to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, is pictured above in June 2020

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo 'begged' his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, not to resign after the New York Post reported in February that she admitted to Democratic lawmakers that the Cuomo administration withheld data about the true number of deaths among COVID-19 patients in nursing homes, according to a state lawmaker

New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim (pictured in June 2020), a Democrat from Queens and a fierce critic of Cuomo, claimed that DeRosa wanted to resign but Cuomo talked her out of it. A spokesperson for the governor denied Kim's claim

New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim (pictured in June 2020), a Democrat from Queens and a fierce critic of Cuomo, claimed that DeRosa wanted to resign but Cuomo talked her out of it. A spokesperson for the governor denied Kim's claim

DeRosa told lawmakers: '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.'

The data remained secret for months until January, when a shocking report from New York Attorney General Letitia James' office said the state had undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent.

It forced New York State’s Department of Health to reveal that the true death toll among nursing home residents was 12,743, rather than the previously acknowledged 8,711. New York had previously only counted residents who died in nursing homes, and left out 4,000 residents who were taken to hospital and died there. 

When asked about Kim’s claim that the governor dissuaded DeRosa from resigning, Cuomo spokesperson Richard Azzopardi said: ‘Ron Kim doesn't know what he is talking about and this is not the first time he's lied about Melissa.’

Kim, who has accused Cuomo of threatening to ‘destroy’ him in a late-night phone call after the scandal broke in February, has called on DeRosa to resign after The New York Times reported that she helped the governor write his book during the pandemic.

The Times reported that Cuomo was offered more than $4million by the publisher, Crown Publishing, to write American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Pandemic.

Kim has called on DeRosa to resign after it was reported that she helped edit the governor's memoir American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kim has called on DeRosa to resign after it was reported that she helped edit the governor's memoir American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

The $4million sum is considered exorbitant in the publishing world, particularly for an author who has no track record of writing best-sellers.

Cuomo’s first book, a memoir entitled All Things Possible which was published in 2014, sold fewer than 4,000 hardcover copies.

Cuomo was widely criticized for writing the second memoir at a time when the pandemic was far from over.

The governor has also been cited for his failure to act in time to mitigate the spread of the virus after it was detected in the United States, a decision that some say led to New York becoming the nation’s first hot spot last year.

The Cuomo administration is under fire for allegedly covering up the exact number of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home patients who were sent back into care facilities after they were discharged from hospitals.

Cuomo is also the subject of an investigation into claims that he sexually harassed several current and former aides.

The Times report is the latest public embarrassment for Cuomo and his aides, chief among them DeRosa, who are now accused of investing precious time and energy into the governor’s book deal while covering up nursing home deaths.

‘My focus has been on Cuomo so far but in light of her latest involvement she must step down,’ Kim said.

According to the Times, DeRosa was meeting with publishers and helping her boss edit drafts of the book about his leadership during the peak of the crisis last summer.

At the same time, however, she and other aides intervened in covering up the actual COVID-19 death toll in statewide nursing homes by keeping the data hidden from a key State Health Department report, according to the Times.

Kim told WRGB-TV that enlisting DeRosa to help write and edit a book violated ethics laws prohibiting public officials from profiting from their positions.

DeRosa, who has been referred to as Cuomo’s ‘right hand,’ became widely recognized for her role as she sat next to the governor during his daily briefings at the height of the pandemic last year.

Kim said he was outraged that the governor and his aides were pursuing a book at a time when thousands were dying of COVID-19.

‘It confirms all of our suspicions that there were clear motives for personal profits at the peak of the pandemic from the governor,’ Kim said.

DeRosa's name has now cropped up in relation to both the sexual harassment and nursing home scandals as she made a bombshell confession last month that they hid the damning data on the number of COVID-19 deaths in the facilities across the state

DeRosa's name has now cropped up in relation to both the sexual harassment and nursing home scandals as she made a bombshell confession last month that they hid the damning data on the number of COVID-19 deaths in the facilities across the state

When asked about DeRosa’s involvement in the book project, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said: ‘As permissible and consistent with ethical requirements, people who volunteered on this project did so on their own time.’

Kim, however, rejected the claim, saying ‘all of those things can’t be washed away under the guise of volunteerism.’

‘You cannot defraud the State of New York, and misuse public time and resources and say it was all under volunteerism,’ he said.

Azzopardi denied suggestions that there was any link between the governor’s book and attempts to scrub data about COVID-19 nursing home deaths from the state report.

‘There is no connection between the report and this outside project, period,’ Azzopardi told the Times.

‘And any suggestion otherwise is just wrong.’

According to the Times, Cuomo aides were asked to help with typing and transferring notes for his book, some of whose contents were dictated by the governor himself via cell phone.

Azzopardi said that DeRosa and another top aide, Stephanie Benton, ‘volunteered on this project’ during their free time and that their involvement was ‘permissible and consistent with ethical requirements.’

‘Every effort was made to ensure that no state resources were used in connection with this project,’ Azzopardi told the Times.

The Times also reported that DeRosa had major input into a July 6 report by the Health Department that essentially absolved the Cuomo administration of any responsibility for COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

The final version of the report included key changes that were made after ‘concerns were raised about the data by Ms. DeRosa’ and another Cuomo aide, Linda Lacewell, according to the Times.

Emergency Medical Service workers unload a patient into their ambulance at the Cobble Hill Health Center in April. Cuomo's office is accused of hiding nursing home death data

Emergency Medical Service workers unload a patient into their ambulance at the Cobble Hill Health Center in April. Cuomo's office is accused of hiding nursing home death data 

The Times report indicates that earlier drafts of the report cite 9,844 deaths among nursing home residents with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 from March 2020 until June 2020.

But the final report reduced that figure to 6,432 deaths, according to the Times.

Azzopardi told the Times that the July 6 report was intended to determine whether the administration’s actions ‘contributed to increased deaths, and not be a full accounting.’

When asked about Cuomo’s book deal, Azzopardi said that the exact terms of the deal would be revealed when the governor releases his tax returns and financial disclosures sometime by mid-May.

The state's attorney general office, federal prosecutors and the Assembly's judiciary committee are investigating various allegations, including whether Cuomo abused his power to sexually harass women - including current employees - and withhold data about the number of nursing home residents who have died of COVID-19.

The Assembly's judiciary committee has said its own investigation is broad and will include a review of the book deal and whether the governor´s family got access to quicker test results than other New Yorkers. 

The legislative probe, led by a Manhattan firm with ties to the governor, is reviewing whether there are grounds to impeach the governor.

The role of the agency is unclear. Agency spokesperson Walt McClure said it doesn´t comment on matters that could or are subject to investigation.

The office of Attorney General Letitia James last week urged the agency to 'immediately' look into reports that Cuomo and others connected to him received special access to coronavirus tests a year ago, when such testing was scarce. James, a Democrat, said her office lacked jurisdiction.

State ethics commissioners are set to meet on April 9, and could take a vote in closed executive session to launch an investigation. 

But commissioners aren't required to disclose anything about their investigations, unless they decide to sanction someone.  

No comments:

Post a comment