Top New York Republicans have spoken out against Governor Andrew Cuomo following a bombshell report on Thursday where a senior aide admitted the administration withheld the state’s nursing home coronavirus death toll.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik released a statement on Twitter on Thursday demanding Mr Cuomo and his senior team be “prosecuted immediately” by both “the Attorney General of New York State and the US Department of Justice.”
“This bombshell admission of a cover-up and the remarks by the secretary to the governor indicating intent to obstruct any federal investigation is a stunning and criminal abuse of power,” she wrote.
Her statement went on to add that New York families who lost a loved one in a nursing home during the pandemic deserved “accountability from the US Department of Justice that will be independent and not swayed by the desperate political pressure from Governor Cuomo.”
Melissa DeRosa, the secretary to the governor who always appeared beside him during coronavirus press briefings, told top state Democrats that the Cuomo administration withheld Covid-19 death data from nursing homes to avoid federal scrutiny after Donald Trump ordered a probe into several states, the New York Post first reported.
The administration “froze”, Ms DeRosa told lawmakers on a phone call, because the probe happened “right around the same time, [Mr Trump] turns this into a giant political football” against Mr Cuomo and fellow Democrat governors.
“Basically, we froze,” Ms 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 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.”
Following the criticism from the New York Post report, Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, release a statement saying: “We explained that the Trump administration was in the midst of a politically motivated effort to blame democratic states for Covid death 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.”
But the report has sparked swift backlash from top Republican officials in the state.
New York Republican Party chairman Nick Langworthy called for Mr Cuomo’s impeachment over the report while William Barclay, the state’s assembly minority leader, asked for subpoenas and hearings.
“Instead of apologising or providing answer to the thousands of New York families who lost loved ones, the governor’s administration made apologies to politicians behind closed doors for the ‘political inconvenience’ this scandal has caused them,” said New York State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, adding there should be a “top to bottom” investigation into the Cuomo administration.
State Senator Jim Tedisco, a Republican, said Mr Cuomo “has totally lost the trust of the people he represents and violated his oath of office.”
Mr Cuomo has been under intense scrutiny for his 25 March executive order, in which he barred nursing homes from refusing people because they were infected with the coronavirus. Under the directive, 9,000 Covid-19 patients were released from New York hospitals and admitted into nursing homes, according to an Associated Press report.
This directive was then removed on 10 May over criticism that it was leading to an increase in coronavirus deaths within these facilities.
State Attorney General Letitia James released a report last month that estimated the deaths of nursing home residents would increase the total Covid-19 death toll by 50 per cent due to underreporting. On this same day, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker updated the total deaths in nursing homes, and it jumped by about 40 per cent.
Mr Cuomo, alongside other state governors, was set to meet with President Joe Biden on Friday to discuss the American Rescue Plan amid this scrutiny.