ALBANY — Assembly Republicans announced plans Thursday to form an impeachment panel to gather evidence about Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s COVID-19 policies and deaths in New York nursing homes as lawmakers in the state Legislature continue to negotiate steps to rescind Cuomo’s emergency authority following reports of a federal investigation.
Republican representatives in the Senate Minority conference plan to introduce a measure to form an Impeachment Commission to gather facts and circulate the measure to all members who could sign on as sponsors. The measure is expected to be introduced late next week.
“The Cuomo administration’s nursing home cover-up is one of the most alarming scandals we’ve seen in state government,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said in a prepared statement Thursday. “Intentionally withholding critical information from the public, underreporting fatality numbers by 50% and the recent revelation they hid the truth to avoid a federal Department of Justice investigation are among the factors that raise the serious possibility of criminality. It is incumbent upon the Legislature to undertake a comprehensive, bipartisan review of the Cuomo administration’s policies, decisions and actions on this matter and render a decision on what steps must be taken to hold the governor accountable.”
More than 15,000 New York nursing home residents died from COVID-19 complications since the state’s first official case March 1, including those outside the facility in hospitals or hospice and presumed virus fatalities when testing was scarce at the start of the pandemic. The state reported just under 9,000 deaths at the end of January.
“No one has taken the step toward impeachment, and this isn’t us saying Andrew Cuomo should be impeached,” a spokesperson with the Assembly Republican conference said Thursday. “This is us saying the Legislature should investigate the facts of the cover-up, anyone involved, et cetera, and make a determination based on those findings if impeachment is warranted.”
State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs defended Cuomo on Thursday, saying the governor’s failure to release the nursing home fatality data in a timely manner is not a crime.
“The NYS Republican Assembly leadership call for Gov. Cuomo’s impeachment less than a week after their party’s failure to support impeachment & conviction for [President] Donald Trump defies credulity,” Jacobs said. “No matter how one looks at it, not one more person lost their life because of any delay in statistical reporting after the fact and not one more person contracted COVID-19. Moreover, there isn’t a shred of criminality and the Republicans know it.”
Jacobs criticized Barclay for not releasing a statement while President Trump falsely claimed for 11 weeks that November’s presidential election was stolen.
“Now, while casting a blind eye to the gross malfeasance of the president of his own party, Barclay and the Assembly Republicans have the gross audacity to attack a governor who has spent the last year working vigilantly to save lives as New York has been under attack from a worldwide pandemic,” Jacobs said. “Instead of fixating on post-event reporting, had Barclay and the Assembly Republicans been half as attentive to Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which he long referred to as nothing but a ‘Democrat hoax,’ perhaps lives could have actually been saved in real time.”
The chamber’s announcement comes on the heels of a report late Wednesday the U.S. Attorney’s office in the state’s Eastern District launched an investigation into work of several senior members of the governor’s state Coronavirus Task Force. The federal investigation was first reported by the Albany Times Union.
“Per our usual policy, the FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations,” FBI spokeswoman Lauren Hagee Glintz said Thursday.
The U.S. Justice Department and state Eastern District of New York declined to comment, and would not confirm or deny a federal probe.
The department opened an inquiry Aug. 26 requesting the numbers of public congregate facilities. Justice Department counsel sent a subsequent inquiry Oct. 28 requesting data from the state’s private nursing homes.
“As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months,” Rich Azzopardi, the governor’s senior adviser, said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to.”
Federal investigators will not publicly announce a probe, the Assembly Minority spokesperson said.
“Look at how the Tish James report went,” the representative said of Attorney General Letitia James’s Jan. 28 report that revealed the state’s COVID-19 nursing home deaths were underpublished by up to 50%.
“That report just came out,” the Assembly spokesperson continued. “There was no publicity around that or what hey had or what they were compiling at all.”
Democrats and Republicans continue to increase pressure on legislative colleagues for an independent investigation of the state’s COVID-19 policies in nursing homes and its six-month delay to release total virus death counts in adult care facilities.
Assembly Republicans proposed forming an eight-member impeachment panel, including two appointees each from each of the four legislative leaders. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, and Senate Maj. Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins would jointly appoint one co-chair with a second co-chair appointed by Barclay and Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda.
The bipartisan impeachment panel would have the same powers of a legislative committee, including the ability to subpoena witnesses and compel records, correspondence and documents related to the matter be produced, according to Barclay’s office.
“The Legislature has a role here, too,” a spokesman with the Assembly Minority conference said Thursday. “What we’ve seen has rocked state government. The people elected are supposedly a check on the governor’s authorities, and we have a role here. We need to get to the bottom of it.”
Assembly Republicans’ resolution to create the panel will go through designated legislative committees similar to a bill. If passed, the committee must conduct its investigation and submit findings to the Legislature within 60 days.
“For the Legislature, for the state government, here’s a way to take a step of investigating and determining whether impeachment is necessary,” the Assembly spokesperson said, adding of using subpoena power, “The majorities do have that authority, they just haven’t used it.”
The Senate Democratic Majority has proposed legislation creating a 10-person bipartisan Commission on Emergency Powers to review actions taken by Gov. Cuomo, according to Senate representatives Thursday.
“This legislation creates a bipartisan Select Legislative Commission on Oversight of State Declarations of Emergency that will end the executive’s current authority to issue unilateral directives and require any future directives to be approved by the commission,” according to the Senate Majority conference. “The commission would have the authority to approve/disapprove a series of emergency actions by the governor.”
The commission is slated to have eight voting members appointed by Democrats and two Republican-appointed members.
The action would more closely monitor and evaluate Cuomo’s decisions, but not curb his expanded authority, which is set to expire April 30.
Any directive proposed by Cuomo would be subject to approval by the commission within 72 hours.
The Legislature has had the power to overturn any executive action Cuomo makes during an emergency without the governor’s approval.
“...But the Legislature is not being briefed or informed about the details of each action, making it difficult to use this power,” according to the Senate Majority.
If passed, the commission could disapprove the governor’s suspension or modification of a law within 72 hours. If no action is taken by then, the suspension/modification would automatically become effective, according to Senate Democrats.
“I think everyone understands where we were back in March and where we are now,” said Senate Maj. Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers. “We certainly see the need for a quick response, but also want to move toward a system of increased oversight and review. The public deserves to have checks and balances. Our proposal would create a system with increased input while at the same time ensuring New Yorkers continue to be protected.”
The commission would allow Cuomo to unilaterally declare a state of emergency, but require commission members to vote to extend the state of emergency after the initial maximum six-month period.
“Although I welcome my colleagues in the Majority who are at long last mulling revocation of the governor’s emergency powers, their action is long overdue,” Ortt said in a statement Thursday. “In fact, the inaction by my colleagues in the Majority effectively enabled this behavior by the governor and his administration, and delayed these important details from being made public. ... They, too, are implicated in this cover-up scandal and they have forfeited the public’s trust.”
A bill to establish the commission was not filed as of press time.
A spokesperson with the Senate Republican conference said Thursday checks and balances must return to Albany. “A commission is just another way to punt responsibility,” they said.
Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, who has sponsored legislation for an independent investigation into the state’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes since last August, spoke out against the Senate Majority’s proposal Thursday. Tedisco repeated his conference’s months-long call for a full repeal of Cuomo’s emergency powers granted by the Legislature last March because of the pandemic.
“What?” the senator wrote in a response on Twitter. “The commission bill has eight Democratic voting members and Republicans get two non-voting members! Would that be before or after we wash their cars and bring them their lunch? Such BS! We all represent NYS and should have equal representation. Just do a clean repeal.”
Republican senators have proposed a resolution to limit Cuomo’s broadened authority 14 times since the 2021-22 session started Jan. 6. Democrats have unanimously voted against the resolution each time.
Representatives from Gov. Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment about the reported plans to rescind the governor’s broadened authority or to form an Impeachment Commission.
Last week, the New York Post first reported Cuomo’s top aide, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, admitted the administration intentionally delayed publishing total nursing home fatalities out of fear of political retaliation on Twitter from President Donald Trump and potential federal prosecution.
Cuomo and his administration have argued they did not intentionally underreport the state’s number of nursing home deaths, but paused gathering nursing home data requested by the state Legislature in August because of the Justice Department’s inquiry about New York’s COVID-19 deaths in congregate facilities.
Cuomo and his top aides did not publicly announce their pause in gathering data to satisfy the federal inquiry.
Representatives from the governor’s office have not answered repeated questions about what data the state sent the Justice Department and when.