N.Y. assemblyman: Lawmakers are 'inching toward' Cuomo impeachment probe

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A Democratic New York state lawmaker who accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of threatening him over his criticism of the handling of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths said Friday that support is building within the state legislature to begin an impeachment investigation.

“It will take a little time to build that consensus, but every day we are inching toward the impeachment process,” Assemblyman Ronald Kim, a Democrat from Queens, said in an interview with the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” He estimated that, along with “virtually all” Republicans, between 25 and 30 Democratic legislators currently support an impeachment inquiry into Cuomo — a number he suggested is growing steadily.

Kim, who considers himself a progressive socialist, made the comments after recounting how Cuomo called him up at home and “berated” him, threatening to destroy his career if the lawmaker didn’t immediately retract his comments accusing Cuomo’s administration of withholding evidence about nursing home deaths. Kim said Cuomo’s comments “traumatized” his wife and prompted him to hire a lawyer.

Cuomo has adamantly denied Kim’s account, and during a news conference in Albany on Friday he pushed back on the accusations against him, charging that his critics are spreading “lies” and “misinformation” about nursing home deaths.

“I’m not going to let you hurt New Yorkers by lying about what happened. Surrounding the death of a loved one,” he said. “So I’m going to take on the lies and the unscrupulous actors, especially when they cause pain and damage to New York.” He added: “I should have done it before. And I should have done it more aggressively.”

The controversy over Cuomo’s phone call to Kim, along with an apparent confession from a top aide that data about nursing home deaths had been concealed from the Justice Department, has provoked an outcry within the legislature, with lawmakers vowing to strip the governor of his emergency powers to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a daily briefing following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan in New York City, New York on July 13, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a daily briefing on July 13, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The allegations have also prompted the FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to launch a criminal investigation into the Cuomo administration’s handling of the nursing home issue.

Kim said in the “Skullduggery” interview that he has been told the investigation is focused in part on “obstruction of justice” and that as part of that he is fully prepared to recount his phone call to federal authorities.

“Of course, I’m prepared to comply and spend as much time handing over as much evidence as they want,” he said. “I expect many of us to be contacted very soon.”

Kim, whose uncle died in a nursing home from COVID, has been a thorn in Cuomo’s side on the issue ever since last spring, when the governor’s administration directed that COVID-positive patients at state hospitals be returned to nursing homes, leading to the spread of the disease among elderly patients. Cuomo’s aides have defended the move, saying that at the time the state was facing a serious shortage of intensive-care-unit beds at hospitals to treat patients during the pandemic.

But the governor’s political problems over the issue have mounted in recent weeks by a series of revelations, starting with New York Attorney General Letitia James’s release of a report concluding that the state had undercounted by as much as 50 percent the number of New Yorkers who had died in nursing homes.

Then a top aide to Cuomo admitted in a private conversation with lawmakers that the state had withheld data about nursing home deaths from the Justice Department because officials feared it “was going to be used against us.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, speaks during a press briefing at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (Hans Pennink, File/AP)
New York Assemblyman Ron Kim during a press briefing at the state Capitol in Albany. (Hans Pennink, File/AP)

Kim said the concealing of the data needs to be investigated along with another issue he sees as closely related: Cuomo’s decision to back and sign legislation last spring giving nursing homes and their top executives immunity from lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus pandemic — a move that Kim claimed was the result of political influence exerted by the nursing home industry.

“If we had the real-time data — which they were holding onto — we would have had the argument to repeal that immunity,” he said. “Instead, because we didn’t see the whole picture, we were only able to repeal” the immunity partially last July.

“So this is one clear example of what we could have done differently in terms of policy if they had shared the data in real time,” Kim said. “But they made a choice not to do it. All of those decisions need to be investigated. Who gave him the language of the immunity? [The] industry came in and even said and bragged in a press release that we got this done for nursing homes and hospitals.”

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