The just released 45-page summary of the investigation into Andrew Cuomo by the firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell for the Assembly Judiciary Committee paints a portrait of a leader who plays fast and loose with the rules of government, who has no compunction about obfuscating publicly when it suits his purposes and who refused to cooperate in any meaningful way with a legislative investigation.
The Assembly report finds, like the attorney general’s report, that the former governor engaged in multiple instances of sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment. Additionally, the report said that he “utilized state resources and property to work, publish and promote his book on COVID; and that he was and his staff were not fully transparent regarding the number of nursing home residents who died as a result of COVID.”
Rich Azzopardi, the former governor’s spokesman, responded to the release by stating in part, “The Assembly report is hypocritical, revisionist and damns themselves as the Assembly effectively forces employees to volunteer on their political partisan campaigns as standard practice and if they want to debate it, we welcome it. Let them start by disclosing which staffers also do political work.”
Colonie Democratic Assemblyman Phil Steck, a member of the Judiciary Committee, didn’t buy the comparison.
“Rich Azzopardi has a long history of simply attacking people, calling them names, not dealing with merit, trying to deflect attention with all kinds of wild allegations,” Steck told Capital Tonight. “There’s no substance to any of his claims.”
To underscore the point, Steck pointed out that the governor’s counsel initially wanted the attorney general to release all the material surrounding her report, but, "later on, when it looked like those materials weren’t favorable to the governor, they did a 180 and said, ‘no we don’t want anything released; it would be unfair to the governor.'"
As for Azzopardi’s allegation that Assembly staffers work on political campaigns, Steck turned it around by pointing to the former governor’s large campaign war chest.
“He could have paid people to write his book out of his campaign fund, which he chose not to do,” Steck said.
The report was also critical of the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing home data, saying the governor himself and members of his administration were less than transparent on certain issues.
For example, during virtual testimony in August 2020 before the New York State Senate by “a senior DOH official” (who is likely former Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker), a “senior Executive Chamber official” used a whiteboard to direct the DOH official to say DOH authored the controversial March 25, 2020 directive, and the executive chamber wasn’t involved.
In other words, the “senior executive chamber official” wanted the “senior DOH official” to lie by saying DOH authored the controversial directive and not the Executive Chamber.
The “senior DOH official” didn’t comply.
The March 25, 2020 directive to readmit COVID-positive nursing home residents back into nursing homes after hospital visits has been much maligned, but interestingly, not by this report:
“We note that our investigation did not uncover evidence to suggest that the March 25, 2020 directive, which addressed the admission or readmission of nursing home residents who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 (the “March 25 Directive”), increased the number of COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes. Similarly, based on our investigation – which did not involve an independent medical assessment – we are not aware of any evidence that undermines the central conclusion of the DOH Report that COVID-19 was likely introduced into nursing homes by infected staff.”
However, Steck points out much of the obfuscation by executive chamber staff was in service to selling Cuomo’s book.
“As the report points out, there’s a chapter in the book on the nursing homes. So the governor, in order to promote himself, was suppressing the truth about what happened in nursing homes,” Steck explained, “Basically, if you got sick from COVID in a nursing home and quite properly were taken to a hospital and died, they didn’t report that as a death associated with the nursing home.”
“I think that it was also a misrepresentation to the public,” Steck continued.
Other aspects of the investigation seemed to fall flat, including the inquiry into the damaged bolts that were used to build the Mario Cuomo Bridge. While the report made clear that its investigation was not completed, there didn’t appear to be any findings of wrongdoing, something Steck substantiated.
“There was no evidence that the governor was manipulating any safety reports about the bridge,” Steck said. “There was an issue about some bolts, it was investigated by DOT; they informed the governor the bridge was safe. His office relied on that.”
As for what’s next, Steck told Capital Tonight that the Legislature is not addressing the possibility that Cuomo may run again because it doesn’t seem imminent.
“Maybe if it were there could be some reconsideration,” he said.