Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) pressed Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland during his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing whether a reported federal probe into New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo handling of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic would be compromised due to a personal family tie from one of his top aide, who happens to be the person that admitted to the revelation of the cover-up of the state’s nursing home COVID-19 death toll data.
“Nine senators wrote a letter to Chairman Durbin asking this committee to investigate Governor Andrew Cuomo policies concerning COVID and sending COVID positive individuals into nursing homes. A senior aide of his admitted to a cover-up to hide information from the Department of Justice. You’ve committed to a number of investigations here at this hearing today. Will you commit to investigating the extent to which the government of New York, broke laws or covered up their policies concerning COVID positive patients in nursing homes?” Cruz asked Garland.
“With all of these investigations, the Justice Department is open to evidence of fraud, false statements, violations of the law. They normally begin in the appropriate way in the relevant U.S. Attorney’s office,” Garland responded.
“And that is the way that something like this, without commenting on this in particular because I don’t know the facts,” Garland added.
Cruz noted that the US Attorney for the Southern District is the mother-in-law of top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa, the aide at the center of the emerging scandal. DeRosa, earlier this month admitted to Democratic New York lawmakers in a conference call that the Cuomo administration concealed the true data related to the state’s nursing home COVID-19 death toll for fear they might be “used against us” by former President Trump’s Department of Justice.
“In this instance, the acting US attorney is the mother-in-law of the senior official in the Cuomo administration that admitted to the coverup. Will you at least commit to not having the administrative investigation done by a person with a conflict of interest?” Cruz said.
“Of course,” Garland replied. “I don’t know any of the facts, but I can guarantee you that somebody with a conflict of interest will not be the person running an investigation of any kind.”
Last week, the Brooklyn-based U.S Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI is reportedly in the early stages of an investigation looking into Cuomo’s actions in the COVID deaths of 13,000-plus nursing home residents. The probe, first reported by the Albany Times-Union, is reported to be focus on members of Cuomo’s coronavirus task force, which includes DeRosa. It is also unclear what role if any Manhattan’s Southern District, led by DeRosa mother-in-law is playing in the review.
If confirmed, Garland would oversee both Eastern District and Manhattan Southern District U.S Attorney offices.
The New York Governor told reporters last Friday that his officials sent the Justice Department some information on Jan. 8 regarding the nursing home deaths, but has refused to publicly release the document. He also has tried to walk back his top aide’s remark, claiming that DeRosa was referring to concealing the data from the New York Democrats, not from the DOJ who in October of last year requested more data from the initial August inquiry.
Cruz, along with nine other Republican senators penned a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) last week urging him to immediately schedule committee hearings into the conduct of the Cuomo administration and noted that they will ask Garland during his upcoming confirmation hearing “to commit” if confirmed to “fully investigating this cover-up” scandal.
“When Judge Garland testifies before this Committee, we expect him to commit the Department of Justice to fully investigating this cover-up to determine whether any criminal laws were violated and to prosecute any violations,” the letter reads.
“We will also ask him whether he has the resources he needs to fully pursue an investigation, not only into the deaths that occurred in New York but the deaths that occurred in other states that adopted similar directives leading to the admission of COVID-19 infected persons into elder care facilities,” the letter continues.
In his opening remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing, Garland revealed his main “critical work” will focus on supervising the “prosecution of White supremacists and others,” who carried out the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. However, missing from his opening remarks, Garland didn’t address either the reported federal probes of Cuomo’s nursing home scandal or the federal probe into the president’s embattled younger son, Hunter Biden’s over his lucrative foreign businesses dealing.
“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of White supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee in his opening remarks.
Cuomo is facing a slew of legal and political reckoning, both locally and nationally since the bombshell revelation by his top aide. New York Republicans last Thursday announced a resolution to create an impeachment commission to formally start the process of impeaching the Democratic governor.
Joining the long chorus of New York lawmakers demanding an investigation recently was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The progressive lawmaker issued a statement last Friday calling for a full investigation of the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes, saying “the public deserves answers and transparency from their elected leadership, and the Secretary to the Governor’s remarks warrant a full investigation.”
The controversy was heightened last month when New York Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report that revealed the state likely undercounted the nursing home COVID-19 death toll by more than 50 percent.