Former Cuomo aide on nursing home inquiry controversy: ‘There was no coverup’

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) wheel a man out of the Cobble Hill Health Center nursing home during an ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Former Secretary to the Governor Steven Cohen came to the defense of his successor, Melissa DeRosa, on Thursday in reinforcing the administration’s claim that there was no cover-up in regard to the underreporting of nursing home deaths.

Cohen held a call with reporters clarifying DeRosa’s commentary two weeks ago that sparked accusations that the state legislature had been kept in the dark about COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes while a U.S. Department of Justice inquiry into the matter was being attended to.

“We were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, and what we start saying, was going to be used against us and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa told Democratic lawmakers during a meeting.

But according to Cohen, this language and other comments in the meeting do not signal a coverup. Instead, DeRosa claimed the data on nursing home deaths was “froze” while information was gathered to accommodate a federal inquiry after fears arose that former President Donald Trump would direct his DOJ to look into the matter.

Ultimately, after state Attorney General Letitia James release a report that nursing home fatalities were underreported by 50%, the FBI launched their own investigation this month.

“It turned out there had been another [state legislature] request, the production related to that request continues to be ongoing on a rolling basis… Now, let me be clear, I am not suggesting that we should not be looking at what has happened with respect to nursing homes. And I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t recognize the tragic loss, and be nothing but sympathetic for people who want and are entitled to understand and know as much as possible about those circumstances,” Cohen said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that this situation was largely set up as part of a political process in a highly contested and high stakes national campaign for president.”

Cohen claims the real root of the matter was in Cuomo’s comments during the August Democratic convention during which Trump tweeted several times about nursing home deaths in New York due to the governor’s policies on returning COVID-19 patients to nursing homes as a measure to keep hospital beds open in the spring.

“What Ms. DeRosa was saying in that conversation is clear to anybody who bothers to look at the transcript. There’s a word she used which was ‘froze’ which has now been taken completely out of context. But in context, it’s clear that what Ms. DeRosa was saying is not as some have suggested as an admission to a coverup or an obstruction of justice,” Cohen said. “What the language says is that a response to the legislator’s request was being put on – the word that she used was ‘pause’ – while the DOJ inquiry was responded to and indeed it was responded to… There was no coverup.”

Cohen’s comments preceded a Thursday budget hearing for the Department of Health regarding financial decisions and how the Cuomo administration intends to deal with a number of issues.

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