NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a full Department of Justice investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in New York nursing homes, and called Cuomo’s alleged threats against a state lawmaker typical of the governor’s “bullying” tactics.
“That’s classic Andrew Cuomo. A lot of people in New York state have received those phone calls. The bullying is nothing new,” de Blasio said Thursday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “It’s very, very sad. No public servant, no person who’s telling the truth should be treated that way.”
Assembly member Ron Kim (D-Queens) said Cuomo called him and threatened to publicly destroy him if he did not change his statements about a Cuomo aide’s admission that the administration had deliberately withheld information on the full death toll at nursing homes.
Cuomo’s office denied the account, but the governor launched a blistering attack against Kim during his press briefing Wednesday, accusing him of unethical behavior in an unrelated dispute from several years ago.
De Blasio, who has feuded with Cuomo for years, said he “one hundred percent” believes the lawmaker was threatened and has experienced similar behavior himself.
“The threats, the belittling, the demand that someone change their statement right that moment — many, many times I’ve heard that, and I know a lot of other people in this state have heard that,” he said. “It’s not a surprise. It’s sad. It’s not the way people should be treated, and a lot of people get intimidated by that. I give [Kim] credit for not being intimidated.”
The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn have begun an investigation that is looking at the actions Cuomo’s coronavirus task force took with respect to nursing homes, the Times Union first reported.
More than 15,000 residents of nursing homes and long term care facilities have died from Covid-19, but until recently, the state acknowledged only about 8,700 deaths, excluding people who died after being sent to the hospital. Only after state Attorney General Tish James issued a report saying the state undercounted deaths by as much as 50 percent did officials release the fuller tally.
In a meeting with lawmakers, Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa acknowledged that the administration withheld the information because they “froze” after being targeted by former President Donald Trump and the DOJ, fearing the data would be used against them, the New York Post first reported. Cuomo has been under fire ever since, and lawmakers last week began moving toward reining some of the governor’s emergency pandemic powers.
“We need a full investigation, unquestionably,” de Blasio told MSNBC. “This is about thousands of people’s lives. This is about our elders. There are families right now, in New York state that lost a grandma, a grandpa, that lost an aunt or uncle. They’re not sure what happened here. They worry that something was done wrong. And the big question: how do we make sure it never happens again? This really hasn’t been investigated. The truth hasn’t come out yet. And we need it.”