The FBI and US attorney’s office in Brooklyn have begun an investigation into how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration handled the state’s nursing home crisis during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report Wednesday.
The investigation is not yet far along and is focused on top members of Cuomo’s coronavirus task force, the Albany Times-Union reported, citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter. Neither Cuomo nor any administration official has at this point been accused of any wrongdoing.
Members of Cuomo’s task force include New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa. The latter drew scrutiny this month after she seemingly admitted the governor’s team withheld information related to COVID-19-related deaths at nursing homes.
“As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to,” Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi said in a statement.
It is not clear whether Azzopardi’s statement refers to the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s probe, which the Times-Union describes as “in its early stages.” Azzopardi’s statement did not specify whether Cuomo’s office was in touch with FBI or US Attorney officials regarding a fresh investigation.
A spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn told the Times-Union he could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation was underway.
Cuomo has faced bipartisan scrutiny over his handling of the nursing home crisis. Critics have focused on Cuomo’s March 25 memo directing nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients at their facilities. The order was later rescinded.
State lawmakers also have pressed for the use of legislative subpoenas to compel answers from key officials, including Zucker.
The lawmakers who attended the briefing with DeRosa included Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, chair of the Assembly’s Oversight, Analysis and Investigations Committee, and Sen. James Skoufis, an Orange County Democrat who chairs the Senate’s Investigations and Government Operations Committee. Skoufis and Aging Committee Chairwoman Rachel May, who were both in the meeting, have faced calls from Republicans for their chairmanships to be stripped by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins because they did not alert their legislative colleagues to what had been said.
Skoufis had already come under fire by Republican lawmakers for not immediately issuing subpoenas for the information they had asked the health commissioner for last summer. Skoufis has said he would use the power if necessary, but would decide that issue after Zucker appears before the Legislature’s joint budget hearing panel.
In a statement following last week’s meeting with DeRosa, Skoufis did not mention her remarks about the administration’s decision to withhold the data in the face of the Justice Department’s civil division inquiry. He said it was “unacceptable that it took so long.”
“To be clear, we will certainly have more questions as we review this information,” Skoufis said of the data that was turned over to state lawmakers last week. “While some of our Republican colleagues in the Legislature continue to shamefully play politics with the tragedy that unfolded in our state’s nursing homes, we are, instead, committed to getting answers, holding stakeholders accountable, and advancing legislative solutions in a sober, thoughtful manner.”
Cuomo this week said he does not believe there should be an outside investigation of his administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic or its delay in reporting the number of fatalities.
“The New York state (Department of Health) has always fully and publicly reported all COVID deaths in nursing homes and hospitals. They have always been fully reported,” Cuomo said Monday. “I don’t think there’s anything to clear here. … There is nothing to investigate.”