The Cuomo Administration admitted to withholding New York State’s COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes, saying it had feared a prosecution by the Trump Justice Department. The revelation was made by Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, during a video conference call with state Democratic leaders, which the New York Post obtained an audio recording of and reported on Thursday.
DeRosa said said the Cuomo administration did not give state legislators the numbers when they asked for them in August because “right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football.”
“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”
Trump “directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us” said DeRosa, “and basically, we froze.”
“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 … That played a very large role into this,” she said, asking for “a little bit of appreciation of the context.”
The conference call came as the Cuomo Administration continues to face sharp criticism for its handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. Cuomo’s March 25 directive barring nursing homes from refusing people just because they had COVID-19 has been blamed for thousands of nursing-home deaths in the state, a charge the Administration denies. The Associated Press reported Thursday that more than 9,000 recovering COVID patients in the state were released from hospitals into nursing homes.
The Cuomo Administration had admitted to only around 8,500 nursing-home deaths — the number who actually died in nursing homes — without revealing how many people got sick in nursing homes but were then sent to hospitals and died there, despite requests from state legislators. But after a report by the state attorney general late last month slamming this underreporting of deaths, the Cuomo Administration was forced to admit that the total number of deaths was more than 12,700. By now, including deaths in adult care living facilities, the number is more than 15,000.
“We do apologize,” DeRosa told the Democratic lawmakers on the call. “I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.”
But Democrats did not accept her apology.
Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried said “I don’t have enough time today to explain all the reasons why I don’t give that any credit at all,” and State Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Rachel May said, “In a pandemic, when you want the public to trust the public health officials, and there is this clear feeling that they’re not … being forthcoming with you, that is really hard and it remains difficult.”
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement to the Post, “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.
“That said, we were working simultaneously to complete the audit of information they were asking for.”
New York Republicans on Friday called for investigations.
New York Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt tweeted, “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.”
Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis said in a statement, “The Governor should immediately resign and the Department of Justice should hold Governor Cuomo and his administration accountable so justice can be served for the thousands of families who lost loved ones.”
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said 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.”