Aide defends Cuomo ahead of Zucker grilling on nursing home scandal

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo trotted out a top aide on Thursday to defend his administration’s handling of nursing homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic — shortly before the state health commissioner faced a grilling on the subject by state legislators.

Cuomo’s press office released a 1,700-plus-word statement by former secretary to the governor, Steven Cohen, that largely echoed comments Cuomo made last week during a series of news conferences.

Cohen’s statement, printed digitally on official state letterhead, was released ahead of scheduled testimony by Health Commissioner Howard Zucker at a virtual hearing on the proposed Health Department budget.

In his statement, Cohen repeated Cuomo’s assertion that Zucker’s controversial, March 25 directive for nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients was merely “guidance” based on recommendations from the federal government.

Cohen also claimed that critics of the policy — which Cuomo rescinded on May 10 — were motivated by politics, referring to them as “[former President Donald] Trump’s supporters, including Fox News, the New York Post and his Republican acolytes.”

Cohen further attacked an exclusive Post report about comments made by Melissa DeRosa, the current secretary to the governor, during a private, virtual meeting with Democratic lawmakers on Feb. 10.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker is scheduled to testify at a virtual hearing on the proposed Health Department budget.
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker is scheduled to testify at a virtual hearing on the proposed Health Department budget.
Hans Pennink

During the meeting, DeRosa said Cuomo’s administration withheld the total number of nursing home residents killed by COVID-19 from legislators and the public due to a pending probe by federal prosecutors, saying that, “basically, we froze.”

“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 said.

Cohen claimed that “this statement was been taken out of context, especially by the New York Post.”

“Reading the full transcript, it is absurd to conclude — as some critics have charged — that the comment was tantamount to an admission of obstruction of justice,” he said.

“Shortly after uttering the word ‘froze,’ Ms. DeRosa made her meaning clear: ‘we provided all the information to the DoJ.’ Ms. DeRosa then further explains that it was the state legislators’ request that had been paused — pending the response to the DoJ matter and in the maelstrom of the COVID crisis.”

Cuomo's press office released a 1,700-plus-word statement by former secretary to the governor Steven Cohen.
Cuomo’s press office released a 1,700-plus-word statement by former secretary to the governor Steven Cohen.
Gary Gershoff/WireImage

The Post’s reporting has led to widespread outrage, including calls for Cuomo to be stripped of his emergency powers related to the pandemic and for his impeachment.

A transcript of the DeRosa call was also subsequently made public by Cuomo, showing that the DeRosa comments were reported verbatim.

The FBI and the Brooklyn US Attorney’s office have also launched a probe, which the New York Law Journal said was sparked by The Post’s scoop.

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