Several staffers said their work on former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic-era memoir “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” was not voluntary and that it compromised their ability to help New York’s efforts to stem the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the bombshell State Assembly’s impeachment investigation report released Monday, Nov. 22.
The legislative chamber’s probe for the first time provides a more detailed picture of how Executive Chamber staff — from junior employees all the way up to Cuomo’s inner circle — were deployed during the height of the pandemic to work on the book that is slated to net the disgraced ex-governor at least $5.2 million.
“The former Governor utilized the time of multiple state employees, as well as his own, to further his personal gain during a global pandemic – a time during which the former Governor touted the ‘around-the-clock’ state response to the crisis,” reads the 45-page report released by the legislative chamber’s Judiciary Committee.
Representatives for Cuomo have repeatedly maintained that any work on the book was voluntary, an argument longtime spokesman Rich Azzopardi repeated in response to the revelations Monday.
“Staff who volunteered took time off, evidencing that they were volunteering and not on state time,” Azzopardi said in a statement. “Any suggestion to the contrary is Assembly hype.”
The new findings prepared by white-shoe law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP, detail how many state employees spent hours on the book, from gathering information, drafting portions, editing and reviewing manuscripts, and promoting it ahead of its release in October 2020.
Officials in the report referred to the work on the book as “no different” from any other assignment they received working for the Executive Chamber during the pandemic.
“The state official explained that Book-related assignments were given by superiors and were expected to be completed like any other task,” reads the report. “He further explained that the work was not voluntary, as he was never asked to volunteer and was not aware of other officials being asked to volunteer.”
One high-ranking Executive Chamber official referred to as “the key point of contact” worked with publisher Penguin Random House throughout the process and sent or received at least 1,000 emails regarding the book from July until December of last year.
The report does not directly name this official but quotes Cuomo from his book referenced in the document describe the senior state employee as “the quarterback on my team and  responsible for managing all the pieces,” who “never took a day off,” which matches a line referencing Melissa DeRosa, the former governor’s secretary and top aide.
Another senior member of the chamber logged 300 emails back and forth about the book during that time frame, and Cuomo’s inner circle roped in junior staff in June or July to compile materials for the book, which took five workers several hours to complete.
“Junior staff members were asked by senior Executive Chamber officials to perform tasks that were related to the Book as part of their regular course of work,” the report reads.
Another senior state official complained in a text message to a colleague that work on the book was “compromising” the ability to work on COVID-19 issues.
The publisher first reached out to Cuomo’s literary agent to see if he was interested in writing a book on March 19, one day before the governor ordered all non-essential businesses to close down under his so-called PAUSE order, due to the virus’s rapid spread.
On July 1, Cuomo’s agent told the publisher that the governor had been working on a book about his experiences during the first six months of the pandemic and had already penned 70,000 words.
A week later, Cuomo’s team began auctioning off a contract with publishers and Penguin Random House emerged on top, guaranteeing him $5.2 million in royalty advances, including $3.2 million by the time of publication in October of that year and another $2.08 million spread out over the next two years.
He could also reap an additional $1.25 million “refresher bonus” if the book reached certain earnings targets.
That was all before Cuomo got permission from the state’s ethics oversight panel the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) on July 17 to even write the book, which came with nine conditions, including that he not use state resources to work on it.
JCOPE last week rescinded its own letter of approval, saying Cuomo violated the terms of the agreement.
Cuomo spokesman Azzopardi claimed the report was “hypocritical,” because political staffers often volunteer to work on campaigns, and the rep called on the members of the Judiciary Committee to declare which of their employees did double duty.
“Will the Judiciary committee members that raised the issue disclose their staff members who volunteer to work on their campaigns and if not why not,” Azzopardi said in a statement.
However, one official explicitly contrasted past work on a Cuomo campaign from working on the book.
“The senior official had taken several weeks of vacation time and moved to a separate office to volunteer on one of the former Governor’s prior political campaigns,” reads the report. “In contrast, Book-related tasks were performed at times during the course of regular work hours and were not segregated in any way.”