- Aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) altered a July report from the state’s Department of Health to cover up the extent of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes, according to Thursday reports from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
- Last month, Cuomo admitted that his administration withheld death toll data in order to prevent a possible federal misconduct investigation.
- However, the new reports claim Cuomo’s staffers attempted to conceal the true numbers earlier than previously known by directly altering the DOH’s report to exclude nursing home residents who died in outside facilities.
- The DOH then used the incomplete number to claim New York had lower nursing home deaths than other states that included out-of-facility deaths when in reality their figures were much higher than everywhere else in the country.
New York Nursing Home Scandal Escalates
Advisers to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allegedly re-wrote a report from health officials to conceal the number of COVID-related deaths in the state’s nursing homes, according to new reports published by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Thursday.
Both Democrats and Republicans accused the Cuomo administration of intentionally withholding the full toll last month after his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, apologized to state legislators for refusing to provide data they requested in August. DeRosa explained that they had sidelined the request in order to prevent a possible misconduct investigation that stemmed from a similar inquiry by the Department of Justice.
Legislators and the DOJ had asked for the data after the state’s Health Department published a report in July detailing the impact of a controversial nursing home policy Cuomo had enacted at the beginning of the pandemic in March.
The policy, which Cuomo later rescinded in May, prohibited nursing homes from refusing to re-admit residents or admit new residents from hospitals solely on the basis that they had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The directive was aimed at keeping hospital admittance low and mirrored similar actions other states had taken at the time, but many nursing home operators and legislators claimed the move had encouraged the spread of the virus amongst one of the most vulnerable populations.
The Health Department’s July report, however, found the policy was not to blame. Additionally, the agency also said the 6,432 nursing home residents that had died was lower than figures in other northeastern states when measured as a percentage of the population.
Lawmakers requested to see the data behind the report, and suspicions arose when the Cuomo administration refused to provide the information, launching a nearly six-month battle.
State Attorney General Report
Then at the end of January, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) published a report claiming the administration had undercounted the nursing home deaths by the thousands, and that Cuomo’s March directive may have been responsible for higher deaths.
The Health Department’s report, James said, had left out residents who had died of COVID in outside facilities such as hospitals, but still claimed New York’s tolls were lower than other states that had counted residents who died in other places.
Shortly after James’ report, the department publicized more than 3,800 unreported deaths of nursing home residents who had died of COVID-19 in hospitals.
Cuomo refused to address the controversy for weeks, only speaking out after DeRosa’s comments leaked. During a press conference on Feb. 15, he took responsibility for not fulfilling the request for data sooner, but insisted that the nursing home deaths had always been reported correctly and transparently, arguing the difference was just a matter of “categorization.”
What the New Reports Reveal
Both Cuomo and DeRosa have maintained that they withheld the data from legislators out of concern that the Trump administration would politicize the DOJ inquiry.
However, the new reports from The Times and WSJ allege that Cuomo and his aides had actually started hiding the true numbers months earlier and directly altered the Health Department’s July report.
According to a draft of the Health Department’s July report seen by the outlets and at least half a dozen people with direct knowledge, the initial version of the report contained a chart that put the nursing home death toll at 9,250 — 50% higher than the figure that was later included in the final version.
The chart also compared the full total including residents who died in hospitals to the same totals in other states, revealing that New York’s deaths far surpassed that of all others. At the time, the state with the next-highest nursing home deaths was New Jersey with 6,150.
According to The Times, the report was rewritten by three of Cuomo’s top staffers to remove the encompassing figures, including DeRosa. None of the officials had any public health expertise. The move reportedly set off a battle with health officials working on the report and further exacerbated the already tense relationship between Cuomo and his Health Department, which eventually prompted nine top officials to leave in February.
The governor’s office responded to the reporters in a statement Thursday night from Special Counsel Beth Garvey, who said the out-of-facility data was omitted because the Health Department “could not confirm it had been adequately verified.”
Gary Holmes, a spokesman for the Health Department, also told reporters the agency “was comfortable with the final report and believes fully in its conclusion that the primary driver that introduced Covid into the nursing homes was brought in by staff.”
The new allegations, however, come as Cuomo is already facing mounting political pressure and calls to resign over the nursing home scandal as well as recent accusations of sexual misconduct by three women, including two former employees.
After the third woman came forward, Cuomo apologized on Wednesday for the “pain” he caused, but rejected calls for his resignation. The FBI has opened an inquiry into the nursing home scandal, and the sexual harassment allegations will soon be investigated by state Attorney General James’ office.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Guardian)
House Votes To Censure Rep. Gosar, Remove Him From Committees Over AOC Video
Gosar remained defiant in remarks delivered on the floor where he defended the video and refused to apologize.
Republicans Stay Defiant Amid Censure Debate
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Az.) and remove him from his committees after he tweeted an anime video last week that showed him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)
The video, which has since been removed by Gosar, was a parody of the popular anime show “Attack on Titan.”
At one point in the clip, Gosar, along with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), are seen battling and then killing a titan version of Ocasio-Cortez.
That post garnered widespread backlash, but Gosar continued to defend it and refused to apologize.
During the heated debate leading up to Wednesday’s vote, the lawmaker again expressed no regret and remained defiant.
“I rise today to address and reject the mischaracterization and accusations from many in this body that the cartoon from my office is dangerous or threatening. It was not,” he said. “I reject the false narrative categorically.”
“I do not espouse violence toward anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset,” he continued. He then went on to insist the video was just a rebuke of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy and compared himself to Alexander Hamilton.
Many Republican leaders — who have largely refused to condemn the video — also defended Gosar and dismissed the post as a joke.
While some said they do not condone violence, few members of the party criticized the lawmaker. Rather, most focused their attacks on Democrats, arguing that they were abusing their power and silencing conservatives.
Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez Condemn Incitement of Violence
Democrats slammed Republicans’ continued refusal to reprimand Gosar. They said there must be consequences and that they were forced to act because his party would not.
Many also argued that they must speak out against actions that could incite the kind of violence that unfolded during the Jan. 6 insurrection. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), for instance, described the situation as “an emergency” that amounted to “violence against women” and “workplace harassment.”
“When a member uses his or her national platform to encourage violence, tragically, people listen,” she said, adding that “depictions of violence can foment actual violence, as witnessed by this chamber on Jan. 6, 2021.”
The Speaker additionally noted that there are legal implications for Gosar’s video because it amounted to a threat against a member of Congress, which is a criminal offense.
Ocasio-Cortez echoed the sentiments expressed by Pelosi during her speech on the floor.
“What I believe is unprecedented is for a member of House leadership of either party to be unable to condemn incitement of violence against a member of this body,” she said. “It is sad. It is a sad day in which a member who leads a political party in the United States of America cannot bring themselves to say that issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong.”
“What is so hard about saying this is wrong?” she continued. “It’s pretty cut and dry. Does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable?”
“Our work here matters. Our example matters. There is meaning in our service. And as leaders in this country, when we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down into violence in this country.”
Ultimately, the vast majority of House Republicans voted against the resolution to censure Gosar. Only Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.) supported the measure, which passed 223 to 207.
While removing Gosar from his committees effectively takes away a major platform for him to effect legislation, the censure is basically just a public condemnation. Still, the move is significant because it represents the first time in more than a decade that a member of the House has been censured and only the 24th instance in American history.
Gosar, for his part, appeared to be unmoved by the decision. Just an hour after the vote, the lawmaker retweeted a post praising him that also included the same video of him killing Ocasio-Cortez.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
Former Trump Aide Steve Bannon Surrenders to FBI After Contempt of Congress Charges
The charges stem from Bannon’s failure to comply with a subpoena from the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Bannon Faces Contempt Charges
Former White House advisor Steve Bannon surrendered to the FBI Monday morning on two contempt of Congress charges.
Bannon, who previously served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday after he defied a subpoena to testify and provide documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“I don’t want anybody to take their eye off the ball…We’re taking down the Biden regime every day,” he said when briefly addressing the media as he turned himself in to the FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office.
Bannon made his first court appearance Monday afternoon, though he did not make a plea and was released from custody. His arraignment is set for Thursday morning.
If convicted, each count of contempt carries a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Contempt of Congress charges are incredibly rare. According to The Washington Post, only three such charges have been brought in the last three decades.
Ongoing Legal Battle
While the proceedings against Bannon will likely be quick, they are only one part of what is shaping up to be a lengthy battle over executive privilege.
Trump has repeatedly attempted to block the Jan. 6 committee from obtaining requested documents, testimonies, and other materials under the argument that they are protected by executive privilege — which he asserts still applies to him and his former aides.
In addition to provoking a fraught legal back-and-forth over key records, the former president’s efforts have additionally prompted multiple previous top officials to refuse to comply with subpoenas.
Some top Democrats have said that Bannon’s indictment will encourage other witnesses to cooperate, but at the same time, it has reinvigorated Trump’s allies in Congress.
While some have threatened payback if Republicans take the House in 2022, others have also weaponized support of Bannon as the latest show of loyalty for Trump, effectively centering the matter as a key issue for the midterm elections.
On Saturday, Trump himself released a statement condemning all Republicans who either voted for the infrastructure bill or the contempt charges against Bannon, listing each by name and promising to back anyone who primaried them in the upcoming elections.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Judge Blocks Trump’s Effort To Keep Records From Jan. 6 Committee
The former president’s lawyers quickly appealed the decision, and experts have said the legal battle over the records could extend into next year.
Trump’s Attempt To Withhold Documents Rejected
A federal judge issued a ruling Tuesday rejecting former President Donald Trump’s effort to block records from being handed over to the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Trump has launched numerous attempts to prevent the committee from obtaining key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers have requested, claiming the materials are protected by executive privilege.
Last month, he went as far as to file a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing those documents.
In his suit, Trump claimed that executive privilege still applied to him even though he is no longer president, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden also declined to exercise executive privilege over the records.
The former president argued that the requested information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”
In her Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan broadly rejected those arguments, writing that “the public interest lies in permitting […] the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again.”
Chutkan additionally argued that Congress’ ability to obtain information as part of its constitutional oversight authority outweighs Trump’s remaining secrecy powers, especially because Biden agreed that investigators should see the records.
“[Trump] does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent president’s judgment. His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,'” she added. “But presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president.”
Ongoing Legal Battle
Immediately after the ruling, Trump’s lawyers appealed and moved to block the release of the records until their appeal can be heard.
According to various reports, the appeals court set an initial written briefing deadline for Dec. 27. Legal experts, however, believe the battle will likely continue into next year and will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.
A drawn-out legal process will only continue to benefit Trump, whose strategy of stonewalling and stalling the investigation has so far proven effective at hindering lawmakers.
Additional delays would further aid the former president if litigation continues past the 2022 midterm elections when Republicans hope to retake the House.
In a statement on Twitter, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich indicated that the legal fight is just now starting.
“The battle to defend Executive Privilege for Presidents past, present & future—from its outset—was destined to be decided by the Appellate Courts,” he wrote. “Pres. Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution & the Office of the Presidency, & will be seeing this process through.”