- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2021

Calls for impeachment are once again on the rise, 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 data on COVID-19 deaths.

Republicans in the New York State Assembly on Thursday introduced a resolution to form an impeachment commission to gather evidence on Mr. Cuomo’s “handling and subsequent cover-up of the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes.”

The resolution was introduced after 14 Senate Democrats joined Republicans in an effort to strip Mr. Cuomo of his emergency pandemic powers. Nine Assembly Democrats accused the governor in a letter Tuesday of “intentional obstruction of justice” and broaching “potentially the commencement of impeaching proceedings against Governor Cuomo.”

Senate Minority Leader Robert G. Ortt, a Republican, said Thursday that each day brings “more erratic behavior and additional deception by a Cuomo administration that spirals out of control.”

“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.”

Just a few months ago, Mr. Cuomo was hailed as a pandemic hero. He touted a memoir on his leadership and accepted an Emmy Award for his briefings, but his political fortunes flipped last month with evidence that his administration underreported and withheld information on nursing home deaths.

The three-week barrage of negative publicity may put a serious dent in any aspirations for the White House, but impeachment remains a stretch given that pro-Cuomo Democrats outnumber the alliance of Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature.

“It is a major political problem for him, but I do not think that a forced resignation or impeachment seems likely at this point,” Daniel DiSalvo, chairman of the political science department at the City College of New York, said in an email. “Cuomo has never been super popular with the public but he was seen as effective in the early Covid crisis. This scandal undercuts that image.”

What could determine Mr. Cuomo’s political future are federal investigations into his administration’s conduct.

The Albany Times Union reported Wednesday that the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York is in the “early stages” of 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 acknowledged that the Justice Department asked in August for nursing home data, but he characterized the inquiry as a “request for information” and not an investigation. He said it caused him to delay a response to a similar request from the Legislature.

“We responded to the entire August request and have been in the process of responding to the October request on a rolling basis as suggested by the Department of Justice at the time, with a production as recent as January 8, 2021,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. “As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to.”

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

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

Mr. Cuomo has denied covering up COVID-19 deaths 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 against him is Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat who has said his uncle died in a nursing home last year presumably of COVID-19. He accused Mr. Cuomo of 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 opponent, 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.”

The mayor 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, however, Mr. Cuomo said his office has had “a long and hostile relationship with Assemblyman Ron Kim” and 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 said Wednesday that the “governor can smear me all he wants in an effort to distract us from his fatally incompetent management.”

High approval rating

Mr. Cuomo’s nosedive began with a Jan. 28 investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who found that the state’s report of about 8,500 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes fell short by as much as 50%.

Last week, Cuomo secretary Melissa DeRosa said on a press 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.

A Siena College poll taken after the attorney general’s report but before the DeRosa transcript was released found that Mr. Cuomo’s pandemic job performance rating remained high, with 61% approving of his work and 34% disapproving, almost the same as the previous month.

The governor’s worst numbers in the poll released Tuesday was on a question about his transparency on COVID-19 death counts at nursing homes. Only 31% gave him a favorable rating and 55% gave an unfavorable rating.

More than 15,000 people died of COVID-19 after they were infected with the coronavirus in New York senior care facilities. Critics blame the high toll on Mr. Cuomo’s nursing home order. An Associated Press analysis found that 9,065 recovering patients were moved from hospitals to nursing homes in the pandemic’s early days.

“The Republicans have been trying to get traction on this issue for six months, and for six months he dismissed it as partisan, partisan, partisan,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “There weren’t a lot of Democrats talking about it until the attorney general’s report came out. So now he can no longer simply dismiss it as partisan.”

Mr. Kim and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, also a Democrat, have introduced legislation to revoke Mr. Cuomo’s emergency powers, and Assembly Democrats urged the party in a Tuesday letter to “pursue justice.”

“We implore you to set aside any concerns of loyalty or disloyalty to this Governor, or this matter is politicized,” said the 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.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Cuomo refused to apologize or back down. He insisted that the state always provided accurate figures and that “there is nothing to investigate.”

He said he informed both houses of the Legislature about the delay, a claim some legislators have challenged, and insisted that his administration followed guidances on nursing homes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

He blamed the uproar on his political opponents, including Mr. Ortt, the New York Post, and U.S. Reps. Tom Reed and Elise Stefanik, New York Republicans.

“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 told reporters 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 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.”

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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