New York’s Comptroller is authorizing the state Attorney General to begin a potential criminal probe of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s book deal, looking into whether he used his staff to help him write a memoir about his handling of the pandemic.
The referral from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli allows Attorney General Tish James, both Democrats, to look into whether senior and junior staffers to Cuomo were coerced into helping the Democratic governor write and edit the book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, or whether they simply volunteered their time, as the governor claims.
The referral letter, first reported in the New York Times, says “allegations have recently emerged that public resources may have been used in the development and promotion of the Governor’s book.”
Numerous published reports say top aides helped the governor edit and promote the book, while lower level staffers were required to print out draft copies on state printers and deliver them to the governor’s mansion.
The state’s ethics panel, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, told the governor last summer that he could not use state property, resources, or personnel to help him produce or promote the book.
Using those public resources without compensating the state of New York would be a violation of the state’s public officers’ law.
The Comptroller’s letter gives the Attorney General the go ahead to look at “any indictable offenses” including the “drafting, editing, sale and promotion of the governor’s book and any related financial or business transactions.” The AG would have the authority to convene a grand jury and, ultimately, prosecute anyone the investigation finds may have committed a crime.
Cuomo was asked, during a brief question and answer session with reporters whether government officials were used to help him write the book.
“Some people volunteered to help on the book,” Cuomo said.
The governor also says that some people were asked to review the book on a voluntary basis, because their names were mentioned in the memoir and he wanted to make sure he had the facts straight.
The book is reported to have earned the governor $4 million. Cuomo declined to confirm that number, but says he will release more information when he makes his tax returns public next month.
“And you will see everything you want to see in the personal income taxes,” Cuomo said.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General confirms that the referral was received but says the office won’t “comment further on an ongoing investigation at this time.”
The AG is already investigating Cuomo on sexual harassment charges from multiple women. Federal prosecutors are looking into a possible cover-up of nursing homes deaths during the pandemic by Cuomo and top aides.
In addition, the state Assembly is also looking into the governor’s book deal as part of an ongoing impeachment inquiry.
The governor’s book was initially a best-seller, but the publisher decided not to print more copies after the controversy over the nursing home death numbers surfaced.
A spokesman for the governor, Rich Azzopardi, offered a vociferous defense, and accused the Comptroller and Attorney General of wanting to take Cuomo’s job for themselves.
“We have officially jumped the shark – the idea there was criminality involved here is patently absurd on its face and is just the furthering of a political pile-on,” said Azzopardi, who says all work on the book by any state employees was voluntary.
Azzopardi does admit that state printers were used to make copies of drafts of the book, but says it was “incidental.”
He says DiNapoli and James are acting in their own “political self-interest,” and he claims both have “spoken to people about running for Governor.”
“This is Albany politics at its worst,” Azzopardi said.