New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo drew calls for his resignation or impeachment this week after damaging new details emerged about the state’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in nursing homes and subsequent withholding of vital information on the death toll – with even Democratic critics calling for greater transparency from the governor’s office.
It’s not the first ethics scandal to rock Cuomo’s long tenure in office.
Back in April 2014, Cuomo drew criticism after disbanding the so-called Moreland Commission, a public corruption watchdog panel that he had set up just months earlier.
In this Sept. 14, 2018 file photo, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, is joined by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as she speaks to reporters during a news conference, in New York. De Rosa, Cuomo’s top aide, told top Democrats frustrated with the administration’s long-delayed release of data about nursing home deaths that the administration “froze” over worries about what information was “going to be used against us,” according to a Democratic lawmaker who attended the Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 meeting and a partial transcript provided by the governor’s office. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
The 25-member commission, made up of a number of New York prosecutors, was looking primarily into political corruption and campaign finance violations for nine months, from July 2013 until Cuomo shut it down, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.
The abrupt end was part of a deal with state lawmakers that led to the creation of new ethics rules in Albany, the state capital.
But the shutdown came before the commission had completed its investigations into numerous lawmakers, and Cuomo was accused of interfering with its work and looking out for his political allies.
The New York Times in July 2014 reported that Cuomo’s office had “hobbled” the commission’s efforts and that Cuomo’s then-secretary to the governor, Lawrence Schwartz, allegedly told members to back off of its probe into an advertising firm that counted the governor among its clients.
Cuomo’s current secretary to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, was named in a bombshell New York Post report Thursday about a leaked conference call with top state Democrats regarding the administration’s controversial handling of the coronavirus pandemic at nursing homes.
On Friday, DeRosa addressed the call.
“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request [about data on the nursing home crisis] to deal with the federal request first,” she said. “As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.”
Back in 2014, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara seized the commission’s paperwork and picked up where it left off after Cuomo shut it down, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Bharara secured convictions of two major state political figures: former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican.
Bharara had also conducted a nearly two-year investigation into the Cuomo administration’s handling of the commission but gave up after finding “insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime.”