Accountability Not Clear for Cuomo in COVID-19 Nursing Home Deaths

Accountability Not Clear for Cuomo in COVID-19 Nursing Home Deaths


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is celebrating the U.S. Justice Department decision to drop an investigation into his policy that sent COVID-19 patients into nursing homes. But with several other probes ongoing, the Democratic governor’s legal situation is still unclear.

The Justice Department announced July 17 that it would not investigate Cuomo’s March 2020 order forcing nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients, prompting the governor to hold a press conference in which he described allegations that his order caused deaths as “outrageous.”

At least 4,000 nursing home residents died when the governor’s order was active, according to a report from New York Attorney General Letitia James, with the New York State Department of Health knowingly undercounting nursing home deaths, as first reported by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Although the Justice Department dropped its investigation, Cuomo faces several other probes related to his nursing home order, as well as allegations of corruption and sexual harassment.

“The governor absolutely is not out of the woods,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., told Fox & Friends on Wednesday.

Cuomo is under criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, along with the FBI, for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other than the nursing home order itself, the governor is under scrutiny for refusing to release data on nursing home deaths, a decision that he blamed on fear of political retaliation from then-President Donald Trump, and for silencing health officials who attempted to report accurate death numbers.

“There is proof that our governor and his administration went to such great lengths to cover up the true death toll,” Janice Dean, Fox News senior meteorologist and outspoken critic of Cuomo following the deaths of her in-laws in New York nursing homes, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The governor also faces James’ probe into sexual harassment allegations made by five women, one of whom said Cuomo groped her.

“Cuomo knows the AG report will be devastating. That’s why he’s scrambling to reduce the AG’s investigation into multiple, credible allegations of sexual harassment as merely a political hit job,” New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim tweeted.

The New York State Assembly launched its own impeachment probe in March, investigating Cuomo’s nursing home policy as well as the sexual harassment allegations and potential misappropriations of funds.

Despite the scrutiny that Cuomo faces, it’s not clear what, if anything, will stick. Some argue that the criminal investigations are unlikely to result in prosecution, and the sexual assault allegations represent the path of least resistance.

“The nursing home tragedy involves many people, many layers and in my view is criminal, but Democrats probably think it’s easier to get him on the #metoo behavior than start really digging into the corruption and lies from nursing homes,” Dean said.

“If any meaningful action is going to be taken, it will be by New York state authorities—and, specifically, by Attorney General Letitia James,” Andrew McCarthy, senior fellow at National Review Institute, wrote in National Review.

The attorney general’s investigation has faced obstacles, however. Cuomo offered in March to provide staffers who were to be questioned by investigators with outside lawyers hired by the governor’s office. Some critics say that was intended to prevent staffers from speaking honestly with investigators.

“I think it is meant to intimidate and tell people that you either stick with the company scripts or you don’t speak at all,” state Sen. Andrew Gournades, a Democrat, told CNN at the time, saying that the offer had a “chilling effect” on staffers’ cooperation with investigators.

Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi argued that James has a “transparent political motive” in the investigation, hinting that the Democratic attorney general may be using the probe to bolster her profile for a potential run for governor.

Meanwhile, the state Assembly’s impeachment probe has drawn criticism from lawmakers and outsiders alike, with many accusing the Assembly of deliberately dragging its feet and intentionally underfunding its investigative team.

“From what I’ve learned in the last year covering this story, New York politics are as corrupt as they come,” Dean said. “The impeachment probe has been a sham from the beginning with stonewalling and Democratic politicians too afraid to go against Cuomo.”

One Democratic politician, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, voiced similar thoughts.

“This seems to be nothing more than a delay tactic or to provide some cover to say we’re doing something, but not really doing anything,” Ortt told Spectrum News in May.

The Assembly in April allocated only $250,000 to Davis Polk & Wardwell, the law firm hired to investigate Cuomo, or enough for three weeks of work, according to the New York Post. The firm was expected to investigate the sexual harassment allegations as well as the nursing home order and the alleged cover-up.

“It’s indicative of a lack of seriousness,” Cam Macdonald, a fellow at the Empire Center for Public Policy, told The Daily Caller News Foundation regarding the budget for the law firm.

The Assembly began issuing subpoenas only at the end of June, over three months after the investigation began. Impeachment charges have not been brought, and the Assembly’s slow pace and infrequent meetings have delayed the probe’s progress.

“If anyone was politically motivated to impeach the governor, there would not be much stopping them from drawing up the charges,” Macdonald said.

The FBI and the Eastern District of New York’s criminal investigation, formerly headed by Trump appointee Seth DuCharme, was taken over by Biden appointee Mark Lesko in March. Lesko was replaced by Jacquelyn Kasulis in June.

“My own intuition is that pigs will fly before the Biden administration takes any action against the Cuomo administration,” McCarthy wrote in National Review.

As a criminal investigation, the probe would have to find evidence that Cuomo broke the law, which some observers say might be difficult.

“I think it’s a bit of a stretch to find anything criminal in any of it, as bad as it was,” Macdonald said. “Are there situations where people have civil cases against the governor? Now that’s possible.”

Dean agreed that proving criminal behavior would be hard, adding, “We will probably never get justice for the deaths of our loved ones.”

Cuomo’s office did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.