Gov. Andrew Cuomo used a press briefing Wednesday to hurl unfounded allegations at a state lawmaker who accused him of obstructing justice by covering up nursing home deaths from COVID-19 — and returned to blaming The Post for exposing the scandal engulfing his administration.
During a telephone conference call at which he declined for a second time this week to take questions from The Post, Cuomo said he and Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) have an “open and hostile relationship” that goes back to legislation enacted in 2015 to regulate nail salons.
Cuomo claimed Kim initially supported the measure, “then flipped 180 degrees” because “businesspeople in his community got upset.”
“He actually used his lobbying firm to lobby on behalf of the business owners … then raised money from those business owners and continues to do so,” Cuomo further alleged, regarding the six-year-old measure.
“I believe it’s unethical, if not illegal. And I believe it’s a continuing racket because he’s still doing it.”
Cuomo added that “the euphemism is ‘pay to play’” — the same sort of scheme for which a top Cuomo aide, Joseph Percoco, was convicted on federal corruption charges.
Cuomo also again defended his administration’s decision to withhold nursing home death data from the Legislature, which his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, last week privately admitted was done because officials feared it would be “used against us” by federal prosecutors.
DeRosa’s stunning remarks were made during a Feb. 10 video conference with Democratic lawmakers, a recording of which was exclusively revealed by The Post.
Cuomo hasn’t taken questions from The Post at either of the two news conferences he’s held since that report.
“As far as us not providing the Department of Justice with information, that is completely wrong,” Cuomo said.
“There is no obstruction of justice in not providing the state Legislature with information,” Cuomo insisted.
The governor also accused The Post of pushing “the Republican point on nursing homes” regarding the state Health Department’s since-rescinded, March 25 order that required the facilities to admit COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals.
“They conveniently leave out, the March 25 order was done following guidance” from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, he said, ignoring the difference between broad guidelines offered to states and a mandate from his Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to the facilities.
“If we did believe it was wrong, we would say we believed it was wrong and we made a mistake following CDC and CMS guidance,” Cuomo said. “And then I would sue the federal government.”
Cuomo further accused The Post of refusing to retract critical comments from Kim regarding DeRosa’s recorded remarks, claiming Kim told him in a private conversation where Cuomo confronted the assemblyman, “The Post misquoted me.”
Cuomo said he suggested that Kim issue a follow-up statement on his comments to The Post, and that Kim said he would issue a follow-up statement “and he never did it.”
The Post stands by its reporting of the comments made by Kim, who said Wednesday of his conversation with the paper, “There was no misquoting.”
“This administration was underreporting nursing home deaths and withholding information about the situation to federal and state officials; a move that benefited the same healthcare donors that helped his campaign over the years,” Kim said in a prepared statement.
“As legislators we have a duty to uncover the truth behind nursing home deaths and the governor explanation about this do not add up; while he claims he was taking time to answer the Justice Department, we saw him gallivant around on book tour and do re-occurring prime time cable hits.”
Kim added: “Meanwhile his top aide deliberately hid information in fear of
political and legal consequences.”
“The governor can personally attack me all he wants in an effort to distract us from his incompetent management; but these facts are not going away because they are the facts and are unacceptable,” he said.