One of the few state lawmakers on Thursday to call for an investigation into reports those close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo received preferential treatment for COVID-19 tests in the early days of the pandemic was Sen. Phil Boyle.
“As my constituents and countless New Yorkers desperately sought to obtain COVID testing in the early parts of the Pandemic when the death rates were skyrocketing, it appears that Governor Cuomo may have used state resources, including state police troopers, to benefit his family, friends, and well-connected associates," said Boyle, a Long Island Republican. "As more and more Cuomo administration officials no longer fear retaliation, we are finding out each day the depths of the Governor’s hypocrisy!"
The exclamation point may be a bit out of character for the normally low-key Boyle, a moderate GOP lawmaker from Long Island. But the statement was also unusual for how rare it was on Thursday after The Washington Post and Albany Times Union reported Cuomo family members received COVID tests conducted by state officials and ferried back to the Wadsworth Lab in Albany by State Police at a time when testing supplies were scarce.
It's not yet fully clear who would investigate the latest allegations against Cuomo, who is already plagued by controversies and investigations stemming from claims of sexual harassment and scrutiny over his handling of nursing home fatality data during the pandemic. In both of those instances, Cuomo's office has maintained he's never touched anyone inappropriately, nor did the state undercount resident deaths.
In the latest controversy, Cuomo's office has maintained the early days of the pandemic were an uncertain time, and that testing was needed to trace back sources of infection.
A senior advisor to Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, indicated a number of people were given COVID tests during this time, including those in the Legislature, the media, and state employees.
“Among those we assisted were members of the general public, including legislators, reporters, state workers and their families who feared they had contracted the virus and had the capability to further spread it," he said.
As to who received COVID tests and why, the state Department of Health said it cannot release that information given privacy laws.
Still, the question of who investigates remains a murky one.
Assemblyman Charles Lavine, the top Democrat on the Assembly Judiciary Committee leading the impeachment investigation, said in an interview on Thursday the chamber's primary focus remained on the sexual harassment allegations, the handling of nursing homes and concerns over the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.
Lavine offered up a lawyerly explanation of the impeachment investigations focus: “I don’t mean to suggest that the allegations involving preferential treatment will not be included in the probe, but the main focus is the three issues that I mentioned."
Attorney General Letitia James's office, which is investigating the sexual harassment reports through an appointed counsel, said through a spokesman it does not have jurisdiction to investigate the reports of preferential testing, but urged the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to take it up.
“The recent reports alleging there was preferential treatment given for COVID-19 testing are troubling," James's office said. "While we do not have jurisdiction to investigate this matter, it’s imperative that JCOPE look into it immediately."
For good-government advocates, the agency is a flawed vehicle at best given its composition includes Cuomo appointees who lead it.
"That's where this sort of gets dumped into the black hole," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "How does it get resolved other than these other vehicles looking at harassment claims or impeachment? It gets dumped into that."