Washington

Gov. Andrew Cuomo under siege as nursing home scandal fuels impeachment talk


Another impeachment may be looming, only this time the target isn’t former President Donald Trump.

The nursing home scandal engulfing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raising the specter of impeachment as federal investigators examine his administration’s handling of data on novel coronavirus deaths.

Nine Assembly Democrats broached the possibility in a Tuesday letter calling for legislators to strip Mr. Cuomo of his emergency pandemic powers, accusing him of “intentional obstruction of justice” and broaching “potentially the commencement of impeaching proceedings against Governor Cuomo.”

Their letter came after New York GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said last week that “prosecution and impeachment discussions must begin right away,” a sentiment echoed Thursday by Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt.

“I am grateful to see our repeated calls for a federal investigation have been answered,” Mr. Ortt said. “And if this investigation reveals deliberate obstruction, as I suspect it will, the Legislature must move toward impeachment.”

The Albany Times Union reported late Wednesday that the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York has opened an investigation into the state coronavirus task force’s handling of nursing homes and long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Cuomo has acknowledged that the Justice Department asked in August for nursing home data, characterizing the inquiry as a “request for information” and not an investigation, which he said caused him to delay responding to a similar request from the state legislature.

“As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months,” Cuomo spokesperson Richard Azzopardi told the Times Union. “We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to.”

Meanwhile, nine GOP senators led by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, called Wednesday for the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Richard J. Durbin to launch an investigation into “Cuomo’s COVID-19 cover-up.”

They also said they will ask Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, to commit to “fully investigating this cover-up to determine whether any criminal laws were violated and to prosecute any violations.”

Critics accuse Mr. Cuomo of hiding COVID-19 nursing home deaths, which he denies, and mishandling the crisis with his March 25 order requiring long-term senior care facilities to accept stable coronavirus patients, a directive that was replaced six weeks later.

Leading the charge is Assemblymember Ron Kim, a Democrat who has said his uncle died in a nursing home last year presumably of COVID-19. He charged Mr. Cuomo with threatening to “destroy” him during a heated Feb. 11 phone call, which Mr. Cuomo’s office has denied.

Siding with Mr. Kim was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longtime Cuomo foe, who said Thursday that “that’s classic Andrew Cuomo.”

“A lot of people in New York state have received those phone calls. The bullying is nothing new,” Mr. de Blasio said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I believe Ron Kim, and it’s very, very sad. No public servant, no person who is telling the truth should be treated that way.”

He added that “we need a full investigation, unquestionably.”

Mr. Azzopardi told CNN that “Kim’s assertion that the governor said he would ‘destroy him’ is false.”

At his Wednesday press conference, Mr. Cuomo said his office has had “a long and hostile relationship with Assemblyman Ron Kim,” and then accused him of “pay to play” with regard to legislation regulating nail salons in his district.

“I said to him on the phone, there is still integrity and honor and decency in politics. But that’s not for Mr. Kim,” the governor said.

Mr. Kim issued a statement Wednesday saying that the “governor can smear me all he wants in an effort to distract us from his fatally incompetent management.”

A Jan. 28 investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James found that the state had underreported COVID-19 nursing home deaths by as much as 50%. Last week, Cuomo secretary Melissa DeRosa said on a call that the staff “froze” when asked by the legislature last year to provide data over worries that it would be “used against us” by the Trump administration.

More than 15,000 people died after being infected in senior care facilities, which critics blame on Mr. Cuomo’s March 25 order requiring nursing homes to accept stable coronavirus patients.

Mr. Cuomo denied at a Monday press conference hiding COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, insisting that the state always provided accurate figures and that “there is nothing to investigate.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Kim and Democratic state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi introduced legislation this week to revoke Mr. Cuomo’s emergency powers.

“We implore you to set aside any concerns of loyalty or disloyalty to this Governor, or this matter is politicized,” said the Democratic letter. “We must absolutely consider above all the sanctity of the democratic institution that we call the Legislature of the State of New York and resolutely pursue justice in the face of an executive who we can say without hesitation has engaged in criminal wrongdoing.”

Mr. Cuomo said that he informed both houses of the state legislature about the delay, a claim some legislators have challenged, and insisted that his administration followed Centers for Disease Control and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidances on nursing homes.

He also blamed the uproar on his political foes, citing the New York Post, GOP Reps. Tom Reed and Elise Stefanik, and Mr. Ortt.

“Look, the essence of this [is] the Post’s continuing point on nursing homes, which is the Republicans’ point on nursing homes, and it has been for the past year,” Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday.

Donald Trump started it. That is true. Fox News. New York Post. Tom Reed. Stefanik. Ortt. This is the Republicans’ point,” Mr. Cuomo said. “They want to say the March 25 nursing home order was wrong.”

Joining the impeachment calls Wednesday was Fox News meteorologist Janice Dean, who lost both her parents-in-law to COVID-19 while they were in living in downstate nursing homes.

“I call on @NYGovCuomo to resign,” she tweeted, echoing Mr. Cuomo’s Jan. 8 tweet against Mr. Trump. “If he refuses, I call for impeachment.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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