The US attorney’s office in Brooklyn, along with the FBI, is scrutinizing the handling of some of the data surrounding Covid-19 deaths in long term care facilities in New York, according to a law enforcement official.
The inquiry is described as preliminary, according to the source. It was not clear whether authorities were looking at Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself or members of his administration.
A senior adviser to the governor said that the administration had been cooperating with the Justice Department and would continue to do so.
“As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to,” said Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to the governor.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment to CNN, as did the FBI in New York.
The Albany Times Union was the first to report on the inquiry.
Last week, Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa admitted in a call with state lawmakers that the administration tried to delay the release of the data on Covid-19 deaths in long-term care facilities, wary of a federal Justice Department preliminary inquiry.
“And basically, we froze, 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 start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa said on the call, according to a transcript released Friday by the governor’s office.
That admission came just weeks after state Attorney General Letitia James issued a report in January finding that the New York State Department of Health undercounted Covid-19 deaths among residents of nursing homes by approximately 50%, essentially by leaving out deaths of residents who had been transferred to hospitals.
The escalating controversy has brought considerable political backlash to Cuomo, who was lauded early in the outbreak for his forthright news conferences and passionate pleas for more medical equipment from the federal government.
In a news conference Monday, Cuomo said that the Department of Health had “paused” state lawmakers’ request for the Covid-19 death data because his administration chose to focus on a related inquiry from the Department of Justice. Both chambers of the state Legislature were told about this at the time, he said.
“No excuses. We should not have created the void. We should have done a better job in providing information, we should have done a better job of knocking down the disinformation,” he said.
“I accept responsibility for that. I am in charge. I take responsibility. We should have provided more information faster. We were too focused on doing the job and addressing the crisis of the moment.”
But Cuomo has been pleading with lawmakers for support and has even been accused of threatening political retribution against Democrats who have criticized him in an aggressive effort to contain political fallout from the revelations.
Describing an alleged exchange with the governor, Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim told CNN that he received a call on his cellphone from the governor last week as he was bathing his children at home.
“Gov. Cuomo called me directly on Thursday to threaten my career if I did not cover up for Melissa (DeRosa) and what she said. He tried to pressure me to issue a statement, and it was a very traumatizing experience,” Kim said.
Cuomo proceeded to tell the assemblyman that “we’re in this business together and we don’t cross certain lines and he said I hadn’t seen his wrath and that he can destroy me,” according to Kim. Cuomo’s adviser denied that the governor threatened to destroy Kim.
Other lawmakers in Albany are asking for at least one of the awards given to Cuomo to be rescinded as the controversy plays out.
Twenty New York state lawmakers sent a letter to the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, demanding it vacate Cuomo’s International Emmy Award in light of his administration’s handling of the Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes.
“While vacating the Governor’s Emmy wouldn’t bring back the over 15,000 New Yorkers we’ve lost, it would be a strong showing of solidarity with the families affected and the common good,” the lawmakers said in the letter, obtained by CNN affiliate Spectrum News Albany. “In a time when many people are disillusioned with our politics and our media, vacating Governor Cuomo’s Emmy would show the public that the academy stands against wrongdoing and injustice across the political spectrum. When over 15,000 people die, the public should get answers immediately, and the Governor’s dishonesty and lack of leadership should not be celebrated.”
In response to the letter, Jack Sterne, a spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, told CNN that the “focus remains squarely on vaccinating as many people as humanly possible and leading the state through this public health crisis.
“New Yorkers have seen the Governor show up and fight on their behalf every day for nearly a year, and that’s why they support his actions to defeat COVID by a large margin,” Sterne said.
CNN has reached out to the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for comment.
This story has been updated with additional comment Thursday.