ALBANY — Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay wants to form an impeachment commission to “gather facts and evidence” surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of New York’s COVID-19 policies and disclosures regarding nursing home virus deaths, the Pulaski Republican said Thursday.
Barclay has been a consistent critic of Cuomo’s pandemic performance but yesterday’s announcement was the starkest terms yet in which the he has challenged the governor.
“The Cuomo administration’s nursing home cover-up is one of the most alarming scandals we’ve seen in state government,” said Barclay, who has represented Oswego County in Albany for two decades. “It is incumbent upon the Legislature to undertake a comprehensive, bipartisan review of the Cuomo Administration’s policies, decisions and actions on this matter and render a decision on what steps must be taken to hold the governor accountable.”
Impeachment commissions have precedent in New York, Barclay said, pointing to a 1913 “joint legislative committee established by a concurrent resolution to investigate Governor (William) Sulzer’s use of patronage.”
Sulzer was impeached, convicted and subsequently removed from office on corruption and graft charges. He remains the only Empire State governor to be impeached.
State lawmakers this week also threatened to strip Cuomo, a Democrat in his third term, of the power to issue emergency orders.
In recent weeks, the administration revealed that 15,000 long-term care residents have died, up from the 8,500 previously disclosed. Republicans like Barclay, who since the first months of the pandemic have claimed the state’s nursing home policies were at best unhelpful and at worst potentially deadly.
Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, also told Democratic lawmakers that the administration delayed releasing data to the legislature about the deaths because officials “froze” over worries the information was “going to be used against us” by the Justice Department.
Compounding Cuomo’s predicament this week came news that what he had hoped to avoid was now coming to pass as federal investigators are scrutinizing his administration’s handling of nursing home data.
The U.S. Justice Department has been examining the governor’s coronavirus task force and trying to determine whether the state intentionally manipulated data regarding deaths in nursing homes, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
“We now know the federal government is investigating Gov. Cuomo, as Assembly Republicans have been calling for,” Barclay said. “Intentionally withholding critical information from the public, underreporting fatality numbers by 50 percent and the recent revelation they hid the truth to avoid a federal Department of Justice investigation are among the factors that raise the serious possibility of criminality.”
According to Barclay’s office, the bipartisan panel would “consist of eight members, with two appointees from each legislative leader.”
Of those eight members, Barclay proposes, the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader would jointly appoint one co-chair, “while another co-chair would be named by the minority leaders in each house.”
It’s unclear if Democrats would be on board with such an effort but Assembly Republicans earlier this month called on their colleagues on the other side of the aisle to initiate legislative hearings on nursing home response.
“The Legislature has a responsibility to hold this administration accountable,” Barclay said. “Rolling back the governor’s emergency powers is important, but doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what’s needed."
The proposed impeachment panel would have subpoena power to call witnesses and “compel records, correspondence and documents related to the matter be produced.”
The development unfolded as Cuomo feuded with Democrats who had criticized his handling of COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes.
Assembly Member Ron Kim said Cuomo had vowed to “destroy” him during a private phone call last week for criticism he felt was unfair.
Cuomo denied the allegation, then used a call with reporters Wednesday to blast Kim, one of nine Democrats who signed a letter seeking support for the proposal to limit his emergency powers, which are set to expire this spring.
The letter, sent to Assembly members Tuesday, said Cuomo’s administration “deliberately covered up” the extent of deaths in nursing homes and “engaged in an intentional obstruction of justice.”
Cuomo said earlier this week the state didn’t cover up deaths, but should have moved faster to release information. “No excuses: I accept responsibility for that,” he said at a news conference.
He said it’s a “lie” that he obstructed justice, and told reporters Wednesday that he had a “long hostile relationship” with Kim. The governor accused Kim of being “unethical” for backing nail salon owners as lawmakers discussed safety and wage reforms of the industry in 2015. Kim had initially supported the reforms, but later opposed some of them after getting support from salon owners.
“I didn’t say anything about Assemblyman Ron Kim. He attacked me,” Cuomo said. “He attacked me and said that I obstructed justice in a letter.”
Kim told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Cuomo called him on the phone Feb. 11 and shouted at him.
“He went off on, I have not seen his wrath, that he had bit his tongue about me for months,” Kim said. “And I heard, ‘I can go out tomorrow and I will destroy your career. I will start telling the world how bad of an Assembly member you are and you’ll be finished.’”
Azzopardi, who was on the call, accused Kim of lying in a statement Wednesday and said no one threatened to “destroy anyone with their wrath.”