Despite his high profile, self-aggrandizing, chest-thumping proclamations to the contrary, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's leadership during the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been — to put it mildly — a complete disaster. But even by the abysmally low standards that Cuomo has already largely failed to meet, new revelations this week regarding his administration's handling of crucial COVID-19 infection data portend the sort of massive scandal that could very well mark the beginning of the end of his time in power.
In leaked audio first reported by the New York Post, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa admitted to state Democratic lawmakers that the governor withheld information on the pandemic's effect within nursing homes that had been requested by the then-Trump administration's Department of Justice this past summer.
"President Trump turns this into a giant political football. He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes, he starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer," DeRosa told state lawmakers during a conference call this past Wednesday. Trump made a habit of attacking Democratic leadership during the pandemic.
"Basically, we froze 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 and what we start saying was going to be used against us, and we weren't sure if there was going to be an investigation," she continued.
While fears over the Trump administration's potential weaponization of COVID-19 data are certainly understandable, DeRosa's admission plays into one of the Cuomo administration's larger failings surrounding how it did — or didn't, in this case — adequately protect nursing home residents during the pandemic. Just two weeks before DeRosa's phone call with Democratic lawmakers, New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a report alleging that state nursing home deaths — officially estimated at around 10,000 people to date — may have initially been undercounted by 50%. (In response, Cuomo brushed off the allegation, claiming "who cares?" where the person died, because the real tragedy is simply that "they died.")
If it's true, however, that the state's response to the acute threat coronavirus represented to nursing home residents was not only woefully inadequate, but that there was also a deliberate effort to hide evidence of that fear of political retribution, then suddenly what might have first appeared to be hubris-fueled ineptitude enters the more damning arena of intentional political malfeasance.
Already Cuomo is facing calls for "accountability" from state legislators, including Democratic state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who called the allegations a "betrayal of the public trust."
Republican state Sen. Rob Ortt was even sharper in his criticism:
In response to the brewing political maelstrom, Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi offered the following quote to the Post:
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.
But as New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D) noted on Twitter, efforts to blame the scandal on the Trump administration ring notably hollow, seeing as the governor's actions seem particularly "Trump- like" themselves.