Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office on Friday morning released a partial transcript of a meeting held earlier this week between state lawmakers and aides to the governor discussing the deaths of nursing home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meeting, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa told lawmakers the administration delayed releasing answers to questions posed by legislators that summer because of an inquiry by the Department of Justice.
That inquiry, she told lawmakers, was generated by a "political hack" in the Trump administration.
"Basically, we froze because then we were in a position where we weren't sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys and what we start saying was going to be used against us and we weren't sure if there was going to be an investigation," she said.
She later adds: "That played a very large role into this," DeRosa said, according to the transcript.
"We went to the leaders and we said to the leaders, can we please pause on getting back to everybody until we get through this period and we know what's what with the DOJ? We since have come through that period. All signs point to they are not looking at this. They dropped it. They never formally opened an investigation. They sent a letter asking a number of questions and then we satisfied those questions and it appears that they're gone. That was how it was happening back in August."
She added that after the DOJ matter, the administration turned its attention to a surge in COVID cases and the vaccine rollout.
"In the intervening period, the second wave happened," she said. "The vaccine rollout started and all of our attention shifted elsewhere."
She also told lawmakers the data released by nursing homes was unreliable.
"It was based on initials. It was based on the data that they thought they died in the hospital because they didn't know for sure," she said. "It was based on co-morbidities that the list of the co-morbidities are pneumonia, cancer, HIV/AIDS - and they're guessing that because it was around that time, maybe it was COVID. This was a massive undertaking and it was happening while we were still at the height of the pandemic. That's when that data dump happened."
It was after this, that Assemblyman Richard Gottfried reacted skeptically.
"We don't have enough time today to explain all the reasons why I don't give that any credit at all," he responded.
DeRosa in a statement early Friday morning hewed to this series of events.
Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, confirmed in a statement the governor's office told lawmakers the information requested by lawmakers would be delayed.
"There was a formal request from Assembly committee chairs and other members to the Department of Health asking for more information on follow up questions in regards to data on nursing homes," Whyland said. "The Governor's office communicated to staff that they needed more time to provide the information. Other than what was reported in the news, the Speaker had no knowledge of an official Department of Justice inquiry."
The state Senate at the staff level was also informed of the request.
Here's the transcript released by Governor Cuomo's office: