Can you say “motive,” kiddies? I knew you could. Andrew Cuomo has steadfastly refused to reveal how much he got paid by his publisher for his premature COVID-19 literary victory lap, American Crisis, telling people they’ll have to wait until his next financial disclosure … in May. Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo hears from his sources in publishing that Cuomo got paid in the low-to-mid seven figures — which would be more than enough motive to cook the books on nursing-home deaths in New York:
The scandals swirling around Andrew Cuomo have reignited speculation about the memoir he published last year, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic, highlighting his then heralded handling of New York’s coronavirus emergency. The biggest curiosity of all remains the size of Cuomo’s book deal with Crown, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House. The governor has declined to specify how much he got for the book, saying in August, “You’ll see it on my financial disclosure,” the deadline for which is May 15. But the talk among sources familiar with the deal is that the book sold for at least low to mid-seven figures, which is a blockbuster sum by industry standards. Cuomo has said he would donate a portion of his earnings from the book to an unspecified COVID-19-related charity.
Right now, it looks like Cuomo might need the money for legal defenses. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both reported on Friday that Cuomo’s “top aides” had pressured the state’s health department to change the numbers in nursing-home deaths far earlier than any interest in those figures by the Trump-era Department of Justice. The DoJ didn’t take any interest until August; Cuomo’s inner circle pushed the health officers to cook the numbers in June. That eliminated the motive that Melissa DeRosa asserted for the cover-up, but the timing raised the book and the payoff as the most likely motive involved instead. And that points directly at Cuomo and not his “top aides,” as I wrote on Friday:
His top aides didn’t stand to benefit from a cover-up; the one who benefited most from it was the man who was about to launch a book tour. And that’s not just about the ego trip and the Emmy either. At the time the book deal got announced in August, Cuomo refused to reveal how much of an advance he received for it, saying it would be in his annual financial disclosure … which is due on May 15. It’s a safe bet that Cuomo got paid in the high six figures, at least; his previous book advance was $783,000. An early disclosure of the real numbers of nursing-home deaths would have almost certainly lost Cuomo his auto-hagiography deal, and it’s an even safer bet that his “top aides” didn’t get any participation in that advance, either.
That prompts the question as to how Crown* coughed up so much money for Cuomo’s auto-bragiography. Pompeo hears conflicting stories, with one being that Crown came to Cuomo. The other makes more sense, however:
The precise origins of the book are also a bit murky. One source with knowledge of how things played out told me the project was initiated by Crown. According to this source, executive editor Libby Burton approached Cuomo’s literary representative, Beltway power-lawyer Robert Barnett—who brokered the Obamas’s historic book deal with Penguin Random House—to express interest. From there, Burton and Crown editor in chief Gillian Blake jointly acquired the title, the source said, adding, “They had published Stacey Abrams together at Holt, and thought they had identified another political star.” However, in another version of the backstory that is circulating, Barnett was the one who cooked up the idea and brought it to Crown, and possibly other publishers as well.
Either one is possible, but the rumored size of the advance strongly suggests a bidding war developed at some point. Yes, Cuomo was hot at the time, but his biggest advance prior to that point was under a million dollars for a book that didn’t sell well. Why offer mid-seven figures for an advance as an opening bid? It seems a little more likely that Cuomo and his team shopped the idea around and got a bidding war started. And if that’s the case, the case for money being the motive behind the cover-up is even stronger.
Either way, Cuomo may have had millions of reasons to keep the scope of the deaths resulting from his order to readmit COVID-positive patients to nursing homes as quiet as possible. It’s a safe bet he had hundreds of thousands of reasons, even if Vanity Fair’s sources turn out to be wrong. In this case, as in most scandals, follow the money.
* Full disclosure: Crown published my book as well, and they brought me the concept in that case — for which I am ever grateful. It was a terrific experience.