New York investigators have reportedly expanded their investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to include whether a top COVID-19 adviser tied vaccine access to political support for the scandal-embattled governor.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) opened an investigation into Cuomo earlier this year after numerous women came forward with sexual harassment allegations. The scandal boiled over just Cuomo was taking heat from federal officials over his COVID-related nursing home scandal. The U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York is handing the nursing home investigation.
Cuomo is also being investigated over allegations “misused state resources to write and promote his pandemic book” about the pandemic, NBC News reported.
What are the details?
According to the Wall Street Journal, investigators have questioned at least three Democratic county executives “who said they were surprised to receive calls from Larry Schwartz,” Cuomo’s COVID vaccine czar who abruptly resigned from his position as a “volunteer adviser” last month.
More from Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Schwartz contacted more than a half-dozen executives in early March, executives said, as Mr. Cuomo faced mounting calls for his resignation from members of his own political party and was personally contacting state lawmakers to shore up support.
The executives said that at the time of Mr. Schwartz’s calls they were typically speaking with him about the allocation of vaccine supplies, not politics. Mr. Schwartz has said he didn’t link vaccine distribution to political considerations. On Friday, he referred questions to his lawyer, Guy Petrillo, who declined to comment.
At least one of the county executives filed a complaint with the state’s attorney general’s office after fielding a call from Schwartz, the Journal reported.
“Right at the time that every county was working, and desperately needed more vaccines, to receive a call from the person who was responsible for allocating those doses gauging political loyalty to the governor was an obvious conflict, and at best ethically gray,” one county executive told the Journal.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz (D), meanwhile, told the Journal he did not feel Schwartz tried to pressure him into supporting Cuomo.
Why did Schwartz step down?
According to the New York Post, Schwartz stepped down after the New York State Legislature repealed a controversial rule that allowed some individuals to serve as volunteer officials during the pandemic.
The rule change, according to the New York Times, meant Schwartz would have been “treated as a public officer following the legislative changes, which would have required him to file financial disclosure forms and be subject to a two-year lobbying ban after his service to the state.”
Numerous staffers have resigned from Cuomo’s office in recent months as investigators continue their investigations into Cuomo. “Those include aides Max Orenstein, Laura Edidin, Christopher O’Brien, Caitlin Girouard, Eric Hammond, Will Burns, Kumiki Gibson and Gareth Rhodes. Most recently, Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne left in mid-April, a year into serving in the communications department,” the Post reported.
Cuomo’s communications director, Peter Ajemian, is the latest to leave. His last day was Friday.