Cuomo aide says state withheld nursing home COVID death data, fearing federal prosecutors

"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," Melissa DeRosa said. 
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September 2020
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September 2020
(Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Melissa DeRosa, the Secretary to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, indicated during a video conference with state Democrats that the administration held back figures about the state's coronavirus nursing home fatalities amid political attacks from President Trump and the potential that the information could be utilized by federal prosecutors.

The New York Post reported that DeRosa "said the Cuomo administration had rebuffed a legislative request for the tally in August because 'right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football.'"

"He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes," DeRosa said. "He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer." As well as targeting the Democratic governors, then-President Trump "directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us," she said.

"And basically, we froze," DeRosa reportedly 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," she explained. "That played a very large role into this," she also reportedly said.

"So we do apologize," DeRosa remarked. "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 said that it looks like the DOJ is not looking at New York's nursing home fatalities: "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." 

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo, said in 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," Azzopardi said

Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim participated in the video call and informed the Post that DeRosa's comments 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."

The news drew condemnation and talk about impeachment in the capital of the Empire State, according to Fox News. The outlet said that Rep. Lee Zeldin would like the Justice Department to initiate an obstruction of justice investigation.

"The families of thousands of dead New York seniors deserve accountability and justice for the true consequences of Governor Cuomo's fatally flawed nursing home policy and the continued attempts to cover it up. It's clear what's happening here is criminal," Zeldin said, according to Fox News.

A petition to remove Cuomo was started on Change.org about nine month ago, calling for New York State Assembly and Senate to begin an impeachment inquiry.

"Elected in 2010, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has terrorized New York State for nearly 10 full years now. Cuomo first made headlines early in his tenure by promoting massively irresponsible state budgets, government overreach and the disenfranchisement of the working class by sending jobs out of state," reads the petition, which now has over 5,700 signatures. "With the Coronavirus crisis, Governor Cuomo has been thrust into the national spotlight. While the media propped him up as a savior, Cuomo pursued policies that endangered our population and even sent senior citizens to their deaths by sending infected patients to nursing homes."