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Ethics panel seeks probe into its own approval of $5.1M Cuomo COVID-19 book deal

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo during a May 2021 news conference.
Mary Altaffer/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The state’s ethics oversight body will hire outside counsel to investigate its own approval of disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $5.1 million pandemic book deal.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) met for a special virtual and almost entirely closed-door meeting Tuesday, Oct. 5, to vote on a resolution to launch an inquiry into the “facts, circumstances, policies, and practices,” that led to the commission’s approval of Cuomo’s book “American Crisis,” said commissioner David McNamara at the brief public portion at the beginning of the meeting.

“We have one item of business on today’s agenda and I think the public deserves a brief statement regarding what that item of business is,” McNamara said.

As he laid out the resolution he was cut off by JCOPE Chairman Jose Nieves — who was just appointed to the leadership post by Governor Kathy Hochul Monday — to move into “executive session,” thereby shielding their discussions and vote from the public view.

“Mr. McNamara, I’ll just say that I appreciate your statement, you made the motion, I appreciate the fact that you made the motion and I’ll just ask if there’s a second to the motion to go into executive session,” said Nieves.

The Commission, which has a history of a lack of transparency, went dark for the next two hours and re-emerged with Nieves giving a short summary, saying they had approved the resolution.

“In executive session, the commission has voted to approve the retention of independent counsel to conduct an inquiry into legal and procedural operations of the commission,” Nieves said. “That is the resolution that has been passed today and there will be further action at a future date.”

JCOPE deputy general counsel Martin Levine gave Cuomo the necessary thumbs up for his book in July 2020, green-lighting the controversy within a week of the ex-governor’s attorney asking for approval and outside of the regular meetings scheduled for June and August, the Albany Times Union reported.

Cuomo also faces a criminal investigation from State Attorney General Letitia James whether he misuses government resources by having staff work on his book.

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