WSJ: DoJ subpoenaed Cuomo-memoir communications, targeting COVID-19 cover-up

Shannon Stapleton/Pool via AP

Will Andrew Cuomo win a fourth term in office … or receive a short term at Club Fed? The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the momentum could be swinging to the latter. The Department of Justice issued subpoenas for internal communications relating to the publication of the New York governor’s book, looking for evidence that he deliberately hid COVID-19 case and death data from the federal government:

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed material related to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent memoir as part of their probe into Covid-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes, people familiar with the matter said.

Prosecutors working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn asked for communications related to Mr. Cuomo’s October 2020 book, “American Crisis,” including contracts and materials used to pitch the book to publishers, the people said. They said the subpoenas indicated prosecutors are interested in nursing-home issues in the book, which more broadly recounted the governor’s response to the pandemic.

The demands were included in subpoenas sent last month to individuals who were involved in editing early versions of the book, the people said, including state officials.

The subpoenas show the criminal probe is continuing to widen beyond its initial request for data on when and where nursing-home residents died during the pandemic. Republican and some Democratic lawmakers have said the governor undercounted the number of Covid-19 deaths attributed to nursing homes as he sought to deflect criticism of his handling of the pandemic’s spread in long-term-care facilities.

“Including state officials”? It’s not clear how many people outside of Cuomo’s staff were involved in editing and/or writing the book, including Cuomo himself. That’s the subject of a completely separate probe by New York Attorney General Letitia James, as CNN reminds us:

The revelation could also invite fresh scrutiny of Cuomo’s book, which found renewed attention last month after tax records showed that the Democratic governor will receive more than $5 million through his book deal with publisher Penguin Random House.

In April, the New York state comptroller requested that the state attorney general, Letitia James, investigate allegations that Cuomo used state resources in the “development and promotion” of his book.

The letter to James asks her to specifically investigate “indictable” offenses related to the “use of property, services or resources of the state for personal purposes, private business purposes or other compensated non-governmental purposes” related to the drafting, editing, sale and promotion of Cuomo’s book and any related financial or business transactions.

Presumably the feds aren’t interested in that corruption angle, as bad as it looks. The laws Cuomo allegedly broke are state statutes, not federal law — assuming Cuomo didn’t fudge anything on his taxes. (That would be a civil matter at this point anyway.)

The New York Post had previously reported that investigators had interviewed “top aides” to Cuomo on these points:

Federal investigators have sent out subpoenas to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides, seeking information pertaining to his nursing home policies in his $5.1 million pandemic memoir, the Wall Street Journal reported late Monday. …

The Post previously reported that federal investigators have questioned top Democratic lawmakers present in the now-infamous Feb. 10 meeting in which secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa admitted the Albany administration “froze” when the the Department of Justice requested information pertaining to nursing homes last fall, withholding the data from state legislators in the process.

At least three Albany Democrats have confirmed to the Post that they have been interviewed in connection with the federal investigation.

This escalation should have Cuomo and his legal team feeling a little nervous. If prosecutors have taken enough of an interest in the interoffice communications about the book to start issuing subpoenas and taking testimony, they must have a pretty good idea that they discussed the real COVID-19 case and death numbers. And establishing that makes a cover-up case rather easy, especially given Cuomo’s personal financial benefit in maintaining the fantasy that he’d beaten COVID. The five-million-dollar book advance is one hell of a motive for prosecutors to flog at a trial, after all.

That windfall might end up coming in handy, too. Last week the WSJ reported that half of it has been earmarked for defense attorneys:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office signed a $2.5 million contract with a Manhattan law firm earlier this year for its legal services in connection to a federal investigation into the Cuomo administration’s handling of Covid-19 deaths at nursing homes, state records show.

Mr. Cuomo’s office hired the firm, Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC, after receiving a Feb. 15 subpoena from prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York, according to the state records. Initially, the contract had a maximum amount of $1.5 million but records show its ceiling rose to $2.5 million in May as the scope of the federal inquiry expanded. The contract specifies that Elkan Abramowitz, a partner in the firm, will be paid $937.50 per hour and other attorneys will be paid $680 an hour.

They also reported earlier that the feds’ interest might go beyond the cover-up:

Federal investigators are examining whether New York state officials gave priority access to Covid-19 testing to some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s close associates and his brother during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, according to people familiar with the matter.

The review of the testing marks an expansion of the probe that the investigators, based in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, opened in February to look at how the Cuomo administration handled Covid-19 in nursing homes.

Prosecutors have recently contacted and scheduled interviews with officials in the Democratic governor’s office who worked on the testing program, some of the people said.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that people familiar with the testing program said Covid-19 specimens taken from state officials and other people close to the governor—including his brother, Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor—were given priority processing at a state laboratory. The testing was done in March and April of 2020, when testing resources were scarce.

The short term at Club Fed is looking more and more possible — if perhaps not a likely outcome. Cuomo’s been through corruption probes before and managed to survive them. That’s more than he can say about the victims of his disastrous nursing-home policy, which is why Cuomo had been working overtime to keep those numbers secret in the first place.