DOJ Drops Investigation Of Cuomo’s COVID Directive

This article was updated on August 8, 2021

On July 23, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would not investigate any publicly-run nursing homes in New York for allegedly violating the civil rights of nursing home residents by following the March 2020 New York State Department of Health directive that required certain nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients. The Department of Justice also announced that it would not investigate similar claims in regard to nursing homes in Michigan, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania.

Following this announcement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo asserted that the Department of Justice inquiry—which had commenced during the Trump administration—was “‘cruel,’” had been based on an “‘outrageous’” allegation, and reflected a “‘toxic’” political environment.

The announcement by the Department of Justice is a relief to the Governor and his political allies. However, he remains the subject of multiple open investigations. First, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn are investigating claims that the Cuomo administration falsified information about COVID-19-related deaths of nursing home residents. Second, the Assembly Judiciary Committee is conducting an impeachment investigation into multiple areas of the Governor’s conduct. Third, New York Attorney General Letitia James had been investigating sexual misconduct claims against the Governor, along with claims of ethical violations in regard to the writing his book about the COVID-19 pandemic. (UPDATE: On August 3, 2021, Attorney General James released a 165-page report on her office’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Cuomo. In short, Attorney General James has concluded that the accusations of workplace sexual harassment against Gov. Cuomo are well-founded.)

It is clear that Gov. Cuomo is more concerned about the Attorney General’s investigation than he is about the impeachment inquiry. In recent weeks, the Governor and his staff have publicly questioned the integrity of the Attorney General’s investigation on multiple occasions. On July 26, the Governor asserted that he had “‘concerns as to the independence’” of the reviewers involved in the Attorney General’s investigation; the Governor added, “‘And is this all happening in a political system? Yes, that is undeniable.’” Furthermore, Rich Azzopardi, the Governor’s communications director, recently published a Tweet implying that Attorney General James wanted the Governor’s job. It would appear that the Governor is attempting to generate public distrust for an investigation that may not go his way. In contrast, the Governor has lauded the independence of the impeachment inquiry.

In July 2007, then-Governor Eliot Spitzer was admonished after an investigation revealed that his administration had directed the State Police to keep special records of then-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s use of state aircraft. That investigation was conducted by an ambitious New York Attorney General named Andrew Cuomo. Was then-Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation inappropriately tainted by political considerations? If not, why would the Governor assume that Attorney General James’s investigation is tainted?