Assembly probe to look at report that Cuomo relatives got preferential treatment

Michael Gormley for Newsday

Originally published in Newsday

ALBANY — The Assembly committee heading an investigation that could lead to the impeachment of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also will look into the latest report that Cuomo’s relatives were given preferential treatment in getting tested for COVID-19, the committee chairman said Thursday.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that the Cuomo administration arranged for his relatives and other well-connected associates to get special access to COVID-19 testing by the state last spring as the virus was exploding in New York. The Post also reported that those samples were processed immediately by the state, even jumping over other samples at a time when testing capacity was limited.

"Matters that have come up will certainly receive some attention," said Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Lavine. "But the investigation cannot be distracted from its major challenge and won’t be."

The committee has hired an investigative law firm to examine sexual harassment claims against Cuomo by former staffers, whether Cuomo withheld total death counts of nursing home residents from COVID-19, and a lawsuit that claimed the administration forced builders of the Mario Cuomo Bridge to make changes that would jeopardize safety.

"The investigation focuses on the three major areas we have been assigned to investigate," Lavine told Newsday. "To be sure, there will be some measure of consideration for everything else that must necessarily be investigated."

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the latest claim is another one of the "insincere efforts to rewrite the past."

"In the early days of this pandemic, when there was a heavy emphasis on contact tracing, we were absolutely going above and beyond to get people testing — including in some instances going to people’s homes," Azzopardi said Thursday. "To take samples from those believed to have been exposed to COVID in order to identify cases and prevent additional ones — among those we assisted were members of the general public, including legislators, reporters, state workers and their families who feared they had contracted the virus and had the capability to further spread it."

Cuomo’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, contracted the virus early. He has fully recovered. Chris Cuomo was one of the relatives The Washington Post said benefited from quick testing.

State Attorney General Letitia James is heading an investigation into the sexual harassment claims against Cuomo. "The recent reports alleging there was preferential treatment given for COVID-19 testing are troubling," said Fabien Levy, senior adviser to James. "While we do not have jurisdiction to investigate this matter, it’s imperative that JCOPE look into it immediately." The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the ethics board for state employees, said it couldn't comment.

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) called on James to investigate what appears to be misuse of state resources, which he said would violate public officers law.

Other Republicans said the claim adds to the reasons Cuomo should resign.

State Republican chairman Nick Langworthy said the preferential treatment would be "a gross abuse of power."

"We have already known that this governor is unfit to serve," Langworthy said. "I renew my call for this corrupt governor’s impeachment and ask Democrats: where is your red line? New Yorkers are watching."

Lee Park, spokesman for the state inspector general’s office, said the agency won’t comment on a "hypothetical matter."

Legislative leaders didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a former federal prosecutor, said subpoenas should be "flying and investigators activated."

"Without accountability, brazen, outrageous conduct like this occurred in broad daylight," Kaminsky tweeted Thursday.