Governor Cuomo’s top aide privately apologized to Democratic lawmakers for withholding the state’s nursing-home death toll from COVID-19 — telling them “we froze” out of fear the true numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors, The Post has learned.
The stunning admission of a cover-up was made by Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa during a video conference call with state Democratic leaders in which she said the Cuomo administration had rebuffed a legislative request for the tally in August because “right around the same time, [then-President Donald Trump] turns this into a giant political football,” according to an audio recording of the two-hour-plus meeting.
“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”
In addition to attacking Cuomo’s fellow Democratic governors, DeRosa said, Trump “directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us.”
“And basically, we froze,” she told the lawmakers on the call.
“Because then 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, what we started saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”
DeRosa added: “That played a very large role into this.”
After dropping the bombshell, DeRosa asked for “a little bit of appreciation of the context” and offered what appears to be the Cuomo administration’s first apology for its handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic.
But instead of a mea culpa to the grieving family members of more than 13,000 dead seniors or the critics who say the Health Department spread COVID-19 in the care facilities with a March 25 state Health Department directive that nursing homes admit infected patients, DeRosa tried to make amends with the fellow Democrats for the political inconvenience it caused them.
“So we do apologize,” she said. “I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.”
Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) immediately rejected DeRosa’s expression of remorse, according to the recording.
“I don’t have enough time today to explain all the reasons why I don’t give that any credit at all,” said Gottfried, one of the lawmakers who demanded the death-toll data in August.
State Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Rachel May (D-Syracuse) — who was battered during her re-election bid last year over the issue of nursing-home deaths — also ripped into DeRosa, saying her former opponent had launched another broadside earlier in the day.
“And the issue for me, the biggest issue of all is feeling like I needed to defend — or at least not attack — an administration that was appearing to be covering something up,” she said.
“And in a, in a pandemic, when you want the public to trust the public-health officials, and there is this clear feeling that they’re not coming, being forthcoming with you, that is really hard and it remains difficult.”