Feb. 23—WASHINGTON — U.S. attorney general nominee Merrick Garland promised Monday that the Department of Justice would pursue any evidence of fraud in a federal investigation he may soon supervise of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s handling of nursing home deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.
“With all of these investigations, the Justice Department is open to evidence of fraud, false statements, violations of the law,” Garland said during his Senate confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate. “They normally begin in the relevant U.S. attorney’s office.”
The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York are investigating the Cuomo administration and its nursing home policies, sources have confirmed to the Times Union.
An investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James recently found that Cuomo’s administration undercounted nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent because many of the fatalities involved residents who were dying and transferred to a hospital. The governor’s office has subsequently come under fire after it was revealed Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa may have slow-walked nursing home data requested by the state Legislature because the administration was wary of how that information would be used against Cuomo’s team in the federal inquiry.
Nearly a year ago, Cuomo’s administration issued a directive that pushed COVID-19-positive nursing home residents from hospitals back into their care facilities to free up space in what his task force feared would be overwhelmed hospitals. Cuomo said his order was in line with federal guidance, a claim that was rebutted by the Trump administration’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Now, facing a torrent of calls for his resignation, an impeachment commission and the revocation of his executive powers, Cuomo has not apologized for his team’s handling of nursing homes deaths and has allegedly threatened a Democratic lawmaker who criticized him.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said Monday that Congress “will obviously review this incident and others” to learn lessons from the pandemic.
“One of the most solemn duties of leadership during a crisis is giving people the best available information so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones,” Tonko added. “I support the officials in New York state and at the U.S. Department of Justice who are working to review this incident and to ensure accountability and I am confident that they are up to the task.”
Last week, Republican U.S. sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asking him to launch a congressional investigation into the Cuomo administration’s actions. The separate inquiries by the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI will unfold largely in secret.behind close doors.
“The American people deserve to know the extent to which Gov. Cuomo and his senior staff violated the civil rights of New York seniors, lied to the Department of Justice about their actions, and violated federal civil and criminal laws in the process,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, hearings will allow this committee to ensure that the Department of Justice has all the tools and funding that it needs to investigate and prosecute to the extent necessary this tragedy and subsequent cover-up.”
So far, most Democrats in Congress have not shown an interest in investigating Cuomo and nursing home deaths in New York, preferring to leave that work to the Department of Justice. Durbin has not given any indication he will launch an investigation in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In the House, Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, led by U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, have also pushed for an investigation by that committee. An amendment to the coronavirus relief bill that Reed proposed that would require governors to attest their nursing home data is accurate was rejected by Democrats on a party line vote.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said Friday she would support hearings in the Senate Aging Committee about conditions in nursing homes across the country.
“One of the things I hope we can do is actually have a thorough review because older Americans in nursing homes all across the country suffered disproportionately,” she said. “When COVID got into these nursing homes and assisted living facilities, it spread like wildfire and a lot of our older Americans bore the brunt of it. So I hope we can have hearings on the broader issue because this is not something that is isolated to New York alone.”
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