Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) top aide privately told Democratic state lawmakers that they withheld the state’s total count data of the nursing home death toll of COVID-19, out of fear that the true numbers would “be used against us” in a possible investigation by the Trump Justice Department, according to the New York Post latest bombshell report.
The secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa made the stunning revelation to New York Democratic lawmakers during a two-plus hour-long video conference call on Wednesday, telling them the Cuomo administration snubbed their legislative data request in August because “right around the same time,” President Trump had turned it “into a giant political football.”
administration is now facing new allegations on Friday after it was reported that they had covered up the scope of the coronavirus death toll in New York’s nursing homes when a top aide admitted that the state had withheld data because it feared an investigation by the Trump Justice Department.
“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa told the lawmakers, according to the audio recording of the meeting. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer,” adding that the former president also “directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us.”
“And basically, we froze,” DeRosa said. “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 your 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 large role into this.”
According to the New York Post, after DeRosa dropped the bombshell on Democratic laps, she apparently asked for a “little bit of appreciation of the context” and offered a mea culpa to the fellow Democrats for the “political inconvenience” it has caused them with the administration run around.
“So we do apologize,” DeRosa said. “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.”
DeRosa noted that it apparently appeared that the Justice Department was no longer “looking” into the matter as they “never formally opened an investigation” regarding New York’s nursing home deaths.
“All signs point to they are not looking at this, they’ve dropped it,” she said. “They never formally opened an investigation. They sent a letter asking a number of questions and then we satisfied those questions and it appears that they’re gone.”
State Senator and Chairwoman of the Senate Aging Committee Rachel May (D-Syracuse) ripped into DeRosa, saying she faced a battering political beatdown for her re-election bid last year with her former Republican opponent slaughtering her over the issue in defending the Governor over the nursing home deaths.
“And the issue for me, the biggest issue of all is feeling like I needed to defend — or at least not attack — an administration that was appearing to be covering something up,” May told DeRosa on the call. “And in a pandemic, when you want the public to trust the public health officials, and there is this clear feeling that they’re not coming, being forthcoming with you, that is really hard and it remains difficult.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), whose uncle was one of the nursing home victims to have died from COVID in April also took part in the call, told The Post based on DeRosa’s remarks, it sounded “like they admitted that they were trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence that might put the administration or the [Health Department] in further trouble with the Department of Justice.”
“That’s how I understand their reasoning of why they were unable to share, in real-time, the data,” Kim said. “They had to first make sure that the state was protected against federal investigation.”
For months, the Cuomo administration stonewalled state legislatures on the full data of the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID, as well as refusing numerous request from news reporters and fought a Freedom of Information Lawsuit (FOIL) request that was filed by the Empire Center on Public Policy. As an alternative, the officials only disclosed the data on the number of nursing home residents who actually died in their facility.
It was until late last month once New York Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report that revealed the state undercounted the nursing home COVID-19 death toll by more than 50 percent that Health Commissioner Howard Zucker finally released the real figures showing the combined total was 12,743 as of Jan. 19. But a day prior, Zucker only publicly acknowledged that 8,711 deaths in nursing homes.
Earlier this week, Zucker in a letter to lawmakers said the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19 had increased to 13,297. That death toll number jumps to 15,049 when assisted living/adult care facilities are factored in.
Following the scathing AG report, Cuomo in his first public remarks callously dismissed how a COVID death was counted in a nursing home or hospital, saying “who cares…they died.”
“If you look at New York state, we have a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states. A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes,” Cuomo said on Jan. 29. “New York State we’re only about 28 percent only. But we’re below the national average in the number of deaths in nursing homes.”
“But who cares — 33 [percent], 28 [percent] — died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died,” Cuomo added.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi issued a prepared statement, “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,” he added.