New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's top aide privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers over a decision to withhold the state's nursing-home COVID-19 death toll out of fear that it would be "used against us" by the Trump Justice Department, according to the New York Post.
Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor, made the shocking admission during a two-hour video conference call with Democratic leaders - telling them that the Cuomo administration stonewalled after the State Senate requested the information in August.
"Right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football, says DeRosa in an audio recording of the meeting.
"He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes," she continues. "He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer."
DeRosa then suggested that Trump "directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us," and because of this, "basically, we froze" she 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."
"That played a very large role into this," DeRosa added.
After dropping the bombshell, DeRosa asked for “a little bit of appreciation of the context” and offered what appears to be the Cuomo administration’s first apology for its handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic.
But instead of a mea culpa to the grieving family members of more than 13,000 dead seniors or the critics who say the Health Department spread COVID-19 in the care facilities with a March 25 state Health Department directive that nursing homes admit infected patients, DeRosa tried to make amends with the fellow Democrats for the political inconvenience it caused them.
“So we do apologize,” she said. “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.” -New York Post
Democratic Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (Manhattan) was livid, shooting back "“I don’t have enough time today to explain all the reasons why I don’t give that any credit at all." Gottfried had requested the death-toll data in August along with several other lawmakers.
Another state lawmaker who was "battered during her re-election bid last year over the issue of nursing home deaths" slammed DeRosa as well - saying that her former opponent used the nursing home scandal against her.
"And the issue for me, the biggest issue of all is feeling like I needed to defend — or at least not attack — an administration that was appearing to be covering something up," said State Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Rachel May (D-Syracuse). "And in a, in a pandemic, when you want the public to trust the public-health officials, and there is this clear feeling that they’re not coming, being forthcoming with you, that is really hard and it remains difficult."
Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim (D) told the Post that DeRosa's remarks came off "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 added. "They had to first make sure that the state was protected against federal investigation."
"It’s not enough how contrite they are with us," Kim continued. "They need to show that to the public and the families — and they haven’t done that."
In addition to stonewalling lawmakers on the the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19, Cuomo’s administration also refused requests from the news media — including The Post — and fought a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the Empire Center on Public Policy.
Instead, it only disclosed data on the numbers of residents who died in their nursing homes.
But after Attorney General Letitia James last month released a damning report that estimated the deaths of nursing-home residents in hospitals would boost the grim tally by more than 50 percent, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker finally released figures showing the combined total was 12,743 as of Jan. 19.
Just a day earlier, the DOH was only publicly acknowledging 8,711 deaths in nursing homes. -New York Post
Following the release of AG James' report, Cuomo callously said during a news conference that it didn't matter where nursing home fatalities ultimately occurred.
"Who cares [if they] died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died," he said.
Cuomo's office appears to have made this disclosure after they figured they were in the clear.
"All signs point to they are not looking at this, they’ve dropped it," said DeRosa, of the Biden DOJ. "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."
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