ALBANY, N.Y. (WETM) — According to a report released by the New York Post Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers during a phone call for allegedly withholding the state’s nursing home death toll from COVID-19.

The report claims Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said they “froze” out of fear that the true numbers would be “used against them” by federal prosecutors.

“Basically, we froze,” DeRosa told lawmakers on the call. “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, what we start saying was going to be used against us, while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”

DeRosa released a statement to 18 News Friday morning regarding the allegations:

“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first. We informed the houses of this at the time. We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout. As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.”

Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor

The governor’s office also noted the information the DOJ requested is different from the information the State legislature requested.

Here is a chronology of events provided by the State:

  • Aug. 3 — NYS DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker testifies before the NYS Legislature regarding COVID and nursing homes/long-term care facilities
  • Aug. 20 — Assembly and Senate each send letters to DOH with follow up questions seeking additional information
  • Aug. 26 — DOJ sends letter request to Democratic governors about nursing home fatalities
  • September — Governor’s office asks legislative leaders to pause response time to the Aug. 20 letters so the administration can first resolve the DOJ inquiry
  • Oct. 28 — DOJ sends additional letter inquiry re nursing homes
  • Early December — Second COVID wave in NYS begins
  • Dec. 11 — Pfizer vaccine approved
  • Dec. 14 — First vaccine delivery to NYS

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Tom O’Mara said the New York Post’s report makes it clear subpoenas must be issued and a full investigation started immediately.

“This is a massive and unconscionable cover-up,” Sen. O’Mara said. “We should not be finding out the truth of this tragedy in nursing homes through leaks of secret Democrat-only meetings. It becomes clearer by the day that subpoenas are warranted for all records pertaining to how Gov. Cuomo and his inner circle handled this crisis. These subpoenas need to move forward immediately.  All of this needs to be aired, fully and forthrightly, in public.”

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt also released a statement regarding the report:

The news today that Governor Cuomo’s top aide admitted to deliberately withholding information about COVID-19 deaths is the latest in a string of disturbing acts of corruption by his administration. This is clearly a gross obstruction of justice. Instead of apologizing or providing answers to the thousands of New York families who lost loved ones, the Governor’s administration made apologies to politicians behind closed doors for the “political inconvenience” this scandal has caused them.

There is no need to deny what everyone in Albany and around New York State already knows:  Governor Cuomo controls every aspect of his administration with an obsessive attention to detail. I am again calling that Governor Cuomo and his administration be investigated from top to bottom and that he be stripped of his emergency powers. Justice needs to be brought for the grieving families who have been ignored to protect Governor Cuomo and his Democrat allies in the Legislature.

If the Governor is involved, he should be immediately removed from office.

Sen. Rob Ortt

Gov. Cuomo’s senior advisor had this to say about Thursday’s report:

“We explained that the Trump administration was in the midst of a politically motivated effort to blame democratic states for COVID deaths and that we were cooperating with Federal document productions and that was the priority and now that it is over we can address the state legislature,” said Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi. “That said, we were working simultaneously to complete the audit of information they were asking for.”

This is a developing story and 18 News will have more information as it becomes available.