The release of the New York State Assembly’s long-awaited report into former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s conduct in office appears to be imminent. After eight months of investigation, and several months of promises that the report would be released “soon,” judiciary committee members have been summoned to Albany Thursday and Friday to review it.
Lawmakers have not said when they would make the report public after their review.
While the report is expected to retread allegations of sexual harassment outlined by New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation, its scope is expected to be far broader, and could shed light on Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, as well as his potential misuse of state resources for his own benefit.
Attorneys from the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP, hired by the assembly as part of a $5.12 million contract, interviewed 165 witnesses and reviewed hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence, according to Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine.
The report, similar to the one published by Attorney General James, is not likely to lead to any specific criminal or civil charges, though evidence from it will be passed on to other authorities still investigating Cuomo, including the state attorney general, multiple district attorneys, and federal investigators.
When the state assembly launched its investigation into Cuomo on March 11th, they billed it as a precursor to an impeachment vote against the embattled former governor, though critics at the time argued it was a stall tactic, and that there was enough evidence already in the public record through news reports for the assembly to initiate an impeachment proceeding.
When Cuomo resigned in August, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie had tried to quash the probe altogether, but then he backtracked under public pressure, promising to release its findings to the public. Despite urging from ardent Cuomo critics that the assembly should still move to impeach Cuomo as a way to bar him from seeking state office in the future, leadership has said that is no longer on the table. When the most recent public campaign finance disclosures were released in July, Cuomo still had more than $18 million in the bank, which he’s dipped into to pay attorneys representing him against various probes and investigations.
Here’s what to watch for when the report is finally released.
Cuomo’s COVID-19 Response in Nursing Homes
We know Cuomo’s administration withheld the number of deaths of nursing home residents who died from COVID in hospitals for nearly a year, and that it deflated the state’s nursing home death toll by 50 percent. We know administration officials edited an official health department report in order to take out those deaths and thus decrease the count. We also know Cuomo’s administration denied the requests from reporters, state lawmakers, and the federal government for more information on those deaths for months, which subsequently triggered a federal investigation when former top aide Melissa DeRosa revealed it to state lawmakers. But what’s still unclear is what happened behind-the-scenes leading up to those decisions. Did Cuomo have explicit knowledge and deliberately seek to cover up the number of deaths in nursing homes, and instruct his aides to do so? The report may shed light on those questions.
Separately, some of Cuomo’s critics have pointed to a March 25, 2020 state directive that ordered COVID positive patients to be sent into nursing homes that potentially lead to a death surge among residents. It’s possible the report touches on this decision as well.
Potential Misuse of State Resources
Cuomo’s controversial book deal, in which he was able to collect a $5.1 million payout on top of his $220,000 salary, is the subject of multiple ongoing investigations. In various reports revealed this spring, Cuomo’s top level and junior staffers worked on the drafting and editing process. Cuomo and his attorneys have maintained aides volunteered their time to do this work. Cuomo was barred from using any state resources during the drafting and publication process of his memoir per an agreement with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the state’s ethics oversight body. The assembly’s report may give more definitive answers around this question.
Another potential misuse of state funds that assembly investigators may have been delved into is whether Cuomo prioritized COVID testing for his friends and family while the tests were in short supply at the start of the pandemic, and whether this violated state ethics laws. Reports from the Washington Post and the Times Union revealed state troopers were dispatched to the private homes of Cuomo’s close associates to collect COVID swabs and then rush those samples to the state lab in Albany where results were expedited — and at a time when people dying in hospitals couldn’t get tested for the virus in a timely manner.
Another Potential Curveball
Surprises have surfaced in the release of previous reports into Cuomo’s conduct. When the state attorney general’s sexual harassment allegation was published, it outlined a never before disclosed account of a state trooper who said Cuomo had touched her inappropriately and made sexual comments to her. When the attorney general published transcripts from an interview with a top health official who said Cuomo had made off-color comments to her, it provided an unexpected window into the turmoil inside his health department.
It’s possible that in the assembly’s fact-finding inquiry, investigators have uncovered something else that hasn’t previously been reported.