In a private conversation, the governor’s top aide admitted that data was withheld on nursing homes, where more than 10,000 New Yorkers have died duri
In a private conversation, the governor’s top aide admitted that data was withheld on nursing homes, where more than 10,000 New Yorkers have died during the pandemic.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration faced new allegations on Friday that they had covered up the scope of the coronavirus death toll in New York’s nursing homes, after a top aide to the governor admitted that the state had withheld data because it feared an investigation by the Trump Justice Department.
The remarks by the top aide, Melissa DeRosa, made in what was supposed to be a private conference call with Democratic lawmakers, came as a cascading series of news reports and a court order have left Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, scrambling to contain the political fallout over his oversight of nursing homes, where more than 13,000 people have died in the pandemic in the state.
Lawmakers from both parties have called for stripping the governor of the emergency powers that he has exercised during the pandemic, while Republicans have demanded the resignations of top Cuomo administration officials and new federal investigations.
Ms. DeRosa’s jarring admission came when she was asked about ongoing delays in giving lawmakers nursing home death data. She said that after the Department of Justice requested information last summer, “basically, we froze.”
At the time, the governor’s office was also facing similar requests from the State Legislature.
“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,” Ms. DeRosa said during the call, according to a partial transcript later released by the governor’s office after her remarks appeared in The New York Post.
The Justice Department never formally opened an investigation, according to Ms. DeRosa. But the intense scrutiny of the governor’s record on nursing homes has struck at the core of his carefully cultivated image as a competent chief executive with a deference to facts, as embodied by the daily news conferences that he held early in the outbreak. Mr. Cuomo even published a memoir about his work on the pandemic before it ended, offering “leadership lessons.”
The continuing questions about how many people died in nursing homes residents threatens to overshadow Mr. Cuomo’s legacy.
Just two weeks ago, the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, who has been an ally of the governor, in a damning report accused the Cuomo administration of undercounting coronavirus related deaths connected to nursing homes by the thousands.
Democrats both in the State Senate and Assembly met privately on Friday afternoon to discuss whether the Legislature should curtail the emergency powers that have allowed the governor to set virus-related restrictions and gave him full control over the vaccine rollout. No immediate action was expected.
“Crucial information should never be withheld from entities that are empowered to pursue oversight,” Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader and a Democrat, said in a statement before the meeting, adding that she would discuss “next steps” with her conference.
Condemnation was even louder from Republicans, who seized on the remarks as evidence of duplicity or even criminality.
“It is time to move past the lies and finally uncover the full truth,” said Representative Tom Reed, a Republican from the state’s Southern Tier, who called for a federal investigation on Thursday night.
Ahead of Friday’s meeting, about a third of the 43-member Democratic conference in the Senate signed a public letter in support of repealing the governor’s expanded powers “as expeditiously as possible.”
While the state has acknowledged that the pandemic tore through nursing homes last spring, Mr. Cuomo’s health department had refused to reveal how many nursing home residents had died after being hospitalized, saying such information was difficult to compile and verify, and was being carefully audited.
Mr. Cuomo has also repeatedly tried to blame the nursing home issue on former President Donald J. Trump and political partisanship, and has pushed back hard on allegations of a cover-up, simultaneously saying that his administration was committed to facts and suggesting — after some additional data was released — that statistics were beside the point.