ALBANY, N.Y. (NBC) – The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and the FBI have begun a preliminary investigation into the way New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration handled data about Covid-19 nursing home deaths.
After early praise for his leadership when his state became the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, the governor is now dealing with accusations of underreporting nursing home deaths.
In recent weeks, the administration revealed that 15,000 long-term care residents have died, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed.
Spokespeople for the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and the FBI declined to comment Wednesday night.
The Albany Times Union first reported news of the inquiry.
“As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to,” a senior advisor for the governor, Rich Azzopardi, said Wednesday night.
Last month, state Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report that said the state Health Department underreported the Covid-19 death toll at nursing homes by as much as 50 percent.
And last week, Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, said that the state held off on releasing the fuller death count in August because of fears that President Donald Trump would use the information against Cuomo.
On Monday, the governor acknowledged that “things should have been done differently” and insisted that “lessons were learned.”
“In retrospect, should we have given more priority to fulfilling information requests? In my opinion, yes. And that’s what created the void,” Cuomo said. “I just want to make sure people know these are the facts: Everything that could have been done was done.”
Democratic and Republican lawmakers in New York are now reported to be reconsidering their decision to grant Cuomo emergency powers to contend with the Covid-19 crisis.
New York was hit hard in the early days of the pandemic, and until recently the state led the country in Covid-19 deaths. It had recorded 47,301 as of Wednesday, second only to California’s 47,670 deaths, according to the most recent NBC News data.
Most of New York’s deaths came in the early days of the pandemic, when public health officials were trying to figure out how the coronavirus was spreading.
The U.S. Eastern District is likely handing this investigation in part because U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss for the Southern District is the mother-in-law of Cuomo’s aide DeRosa and would have to recuse herself and office.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney Southern District also declined comment Wednesday night.
This — as new legislation calls for the release of all tapes concerning that data.
Republican lawmakers are calling for the Cuomo administration to fully release video or audio transcripts of the conversation made with Democratic Legislators.
Wednesday, Assemblyman Mike Lawler introduced a bill that would release the recording of calls the Cuomo administration only released a part to the public.
The legislation would force the governor to hand over any recordings from his staff’s call with democratic legislators.
Lawler says this legislation comes down to the true cost of human life.
“They engaged in a coordinated cover-up to withhold information, the true cost, in human life from their policy decisions.”Mike Lawler, (R-NY) Assembly District 97
Assemblyman Lawler said in an interview with 18 News, if these recordings are released — the plan is to release them to the public — and turn them over to the NYS Attorney General Letitia James and the department of justice for a criminal investigation.