NY Assembly Republicans push for Cuomo impeachment commission to investigate nursing home scandal

Committee would have authority to subpoena witnesses and compel records

Republicans in the New York State Assembly announced Thursday they will push to form an impeachment commission to "gather facts and evidence" surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and underreported COVID-19 nursing home deaths in the state.

Assembly Republicans on Thursday said they would introduce a measure to form an impeachment commission, which they said would be tasked with "examining the state’s method of administration and conduct in all matters relating to nursing homes and long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic."

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The resolution would set a 60-day deadline for the committee to conduct its work and submit findings and recommendations to the legislature.

The committee would be bipartisan and consist of eight members, with two appointees from each legislative leader, and have the same powers of a legislative committee, including the ability to subpoena witnesses and compel records, correspondence and documents related to the matter be produced. 

"The Cuomo Administration’s nursing home cover-up is one of the most alarming scandals we’ve seen in state government," Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said in a statement. "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."

Barclay added: "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."

Barclay said that the legislature "has a responsibility to hold this administration accountable. Rolling back the governor’s emergency powers is important, but doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what’s needed."

Barclay seemed to confirm reports that "the federal government is investigating Gov. Cuomo, as Assembly Republicans have been calling for."

"But in no way should the federal response prevent state legislators from pursuing the truth, gathering facts and determining the proper course of action," Barclay said.

The move by state Republicans comes as the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn have reportedly begun an investigation into how the Cuomo administration handled the state’s nursing home crisis during the pandemic.

The investigation is not yet far along and is focused on top members of Cuomo’s coronavirus task force, the Albany Times-Union reported, citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter. Neither Cuomo nor any administration official has at this point been accused of any wrongdoing.

Members of Cuomo's task force include New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa. The latter drew scrutiny this month after she seemingly admitted the governor’s team withheld information related to COVID-19-related deaths at nursing homes.

"As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to," Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi said in a statement.

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It is not clear whether Azzopardi's statement refers to the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's probe, which the Times-Union describes as "in its early stages." Azzopardi's statement did not specify whether Cuomo's office was in touch with FBI or US Attorney officials regarding a fresh investigation.

Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James said nursing home COVID-19 deaths in the state were undercounted by as much as 50%. And things escalated last week after a report that a top aide to Cuomo told leading state Democratic lawmakers that the administration had withheld data on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes to avoid federal scrutiny.

But last year, Cuomo directed nursing homes in the state to accept patients who had or were suspected of having COVID-19. The decision created an onslaught of COVID-19 cases that infected thousands of elderly patients and resulted in hundreds of deaths among the state's most vulnerable population. 

James said a new report revealed that, as of Jan. 27, 2021, there were 5,597 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 in nursing homes and an additional 2,783 presumed deaths. In assisted care facilities, there were 160 deaths and 52 presumed deaths.

James' report said government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.

Cuomo, taking questions from reporters last month after the release of the report on nursing home deaths, defended himself and said, "Everybody did the best they could."

In the press conference, Cuomo said the state followed federal guidance. "If you think there was a mistake, then go talk to the federal government," he said. "It's not about pointing fingers or blame, this became a political football." 

Cuomo has defended the nursing home policy as in line with guidance from the Trump administration at the time.

James' report said government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) asked 62 nursing homes to provide data about deaths in their facilities. 

The report, which revealed the findings of an investigation into allegations of patient neglect and other "concerning conduct" that jeopardized the health and safety of both patients and employees, said that some facilities failed to comply with health protocols to stop the spread of the virus. 

Nursing homes that had low U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Staffing ratings were found to have higher COVID-19 fatality rates. 

In addition, lack of sufficient personal protective equipment for staff, as well as low availability of testing, could have also increased the patients' risk of contracting the virus, the report said. 

About 70% of the nearly 35,000 COVID deaths in New York were people aged 70 and older, according to state data as of Jan. 28.

Investigations into more than 20 nursing homes whose reported conduct during the first wave of the pandemic presented particular concern are still ongoing, James added.

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"As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate," James said in a statement. "While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents."

Fox News' Thomas Barrabi contributed to this report.