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Cuomo administration facing federal probe over nursing homes

Governor Andrew Cuomo holds a press briefing on

Governor Andrew Cuomo holds a press briefing on Feb. 15. in Albany. Credit: Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo/Darren McGee

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo faced blowback Wednesday on multiple fronts for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the late developments:

  • The Cuomo administration confirmed it was cooperating with a federal probe regarding nursing homes, which was first reported by The Albany Times Union. The newspaper said the inquiry was being handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn. The U.S. Attorney's probe is separate from an inquiry the U.S. Department of Justice launched during the Trump administration last summer. "As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to," Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi said.
  • The leader of the state Senate said the chamber would approve a bill to take back some of the emergency powers the Legislature granted Cuomo when the coronavirus pandemic began last spring. The measure, which could be voted on early next week, would have to be approved by the state Assembly, which hasn't taken a position on it yet.

A day of tumult in Albany began when Cuomo fired a broadside at Assemb. Ron Kim of Flushing came after Kim joined eight other Democrats in accusing Cuomo of violating federal obstruction of justice statutes regarding a federal nursing home probe.

In a letter, first reported by the New York Post, the legislators sought to end Cuomo’s emergency powers for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and accused him of engaging in a "criminal use of power."

Cuomo veered from his daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday to single out Kim, accusing him of misrepresenting the facts about nursing homes.

Cuomo then switched to the unrelated issue of nail salon regulation to accuse Kim, a five-term assemblyman, of "unethical if not illegal" behavior and benefiting from a "continuing racket" involving campaign contributions.

Kim replied that Cuomo was trying to "smear me" in an effort to "distract us from his fatally incompetent management." Kim also told news outlets the governor, in a phone call, had threatened to "destroy" him.

That prompted a statement issued late in the day by a Cuomo aide accusing Kim of lying about the phone call.

It was the latest — and perhaps most personal — in a series of escalating battles between the third-term governor and lawmakers of both political parties. Some of them are calling for termination of emergency powers they granted Cuomo in 2020 to deal with the pandemic.

That demand gained significant momentum Wednesday night when Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said the chamber would take action soon to pull back some of its authority. Circumstances have changed since the pandemic began, she said.

"I think everyone understands where we were back in March and where we are now," Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. "The public deserves to have checks and balances."

Under the Senate proposal, Cuomo still would have the ability to suspend existing laws but would have to get approval from a bipartisan panel to create any new laws.

The ability to make new laws, granted last spring, is the primary reason Cuomo was considered to have greater emergency powers than previous New York governors.

Cuomo said Monday he didn't respond to a request for nursing home data by the legislature in August because he had prioritized a similar request from the Trump administration’s Justice Department. Cuomo said he had informed legislative staffers of the prioritization, a statement that several legislators dispute.

On Wednesday, after delivering an update on COVID-19 cases and vaccines, Cuomo said he'd had a "long and hostile relationship" with Kim and took issue with the legislator's comments about hiding information regarding nursing homes.

"As far as his point that we didn’t provide information to the U.S. Department of Justice, that is just wrong and he knows it," Cuomo said.

"There is no obstruction of justice for not providing the State Legislature with information — and they knew about it," Cuomo said.

"But if you attack my integrity and my administration’s integrity, am I going to fail to respond?" Cuomo asked. "No. I’m not going to do that."

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) tweeted later that Cuomo's behavior "is unhinged … seems like someone has a problem with legislators performing their oversight duties."

In a CNN report published Wednesday afternoon, Kim said the governor had called him days before and threatened his career.

"He tried to pressure me to issue a statement and it was a very traumatizing experience," Kim said. "He said I hadn’t seen his wrath and that he can destroy me."

CNN said in its report it had tried to contact Cuomo for comment on Tuesday.

Azzopardi, who said he had listened in on the call between Cuomo and Kim, accused Kim of "lying about his conversation with Governor Cuomo. At no time did anyone threaten to 'destroy' anyone with their 'wrath' nor engage in a 'cover-up.' That's beyond the pale and is unfortunately part of a yearslong pattern of lies by Mr. Kim against this administration."

Azzopardi referred to Kim as "an unscrupulous politician."