Cuomo's Fall from Grace

His nursing home scandal has gone from bad to worse.

Look on the bright side: Even though it’s Monday and the week is just beginning, you are probably having a better Monday than Governor Andrew Cuomo. He is poised to lose his emergency powers at some point this week, after it was revealed that he covered up nursing home deaths in his State’s official tally of COVID-19 casualties. That follows him apparently screaming at a Democratic Assemblyman during a phone call - Ron Kim - and threatening him over the nursing home issue (Kim instead went to the Press). Cover-ups…late-night phone calls…addiction to power…screaming…threats…is this Governor Cuomo or is it a certain former President? Hard to tell.

I think it would be helpful to start at the beginning of this scandal. Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when New York was the epicenter of the disease’s outbreak in the West, the Cuomo Administration began moving discharged COVID-19 patients into nursing homes and long-term care facilities. When his team released their numbers on nursing home deaths in July of 2020, things looked a little fishy. Hearings were held in Albany that questioned the official tally. The New York Press kept getting soundbites from lawmakers - including Democrats - who seemed to question Cuomo’s official number. A Politico article from May of 2020, talks about Cuomo’s “halo” beginning to fade, and it quotes a certain Democratic Assemblyman:

“It’s ludicrous. You can’t one day say you can blame me and the buck stops with me, and the next day pass the buck to anyone besides yourself,” said Assembly Member Ron Kim (D-Queens), who has previously clashed with Cuomo.

It has long been suspected that the Cuomo Administration covered up some of the deaths by cooking the books. On January 28, 2021, Cuomo’s Attorney General, Letitia James, definitively answered the question and issued a heavily critical report of the Administration’s nursing home policy, finding that around 50% of the total nursing home deaths were missing from the Administration’s final numbers. James’s report suggests that Cuomo’s policy very likely led to unnecessary deaths in New York.

In a private Zoom meeting with Democratic lawmakers who had been critical of Cuomo throughout COVID, the Governor’s top aide - Melissa DeRosa - admitted that they hid some of the deaths because they were afraid of the Trump Administration. The story about the Zoom call was leaked to the New York Post. After that happened, Cuomo got on the phone. He called Kim and told him to retract an attributed, on-the-record quote that was in the Post’s story:

But the quote had stayed in, the story was up, and now the governor was on the phone, fuming. “I will destroy you!” Cuomo screamed, according to notes Kim wrote down after the call—which he shared with me. The governor was so loud that Kim’s wife and daughters grew upset, and Kim stepped out of the bathroom. “You haven’t seen my wrath,” Cuomo told him. “I will go out tomorrow and start telling the world how bad of an Assembly member you are, and you will be finished.”

CNN ended up breaking the story about Cuomo’s phone call with Kim, and that’s also relevant. Throughout 2020, lots of insidery basebally newsgeeks and journalists all expressed bewilderment about the media’s fascination with Cuomo, whose state had the most COVID-19 deaths not just numerically, but also per capita (at least for a while). Even non-conservative writers asked why CNN was having Chris Cuomo interview his brother every night, given it was a pretty obvious conflict of interest. And, as the Politico story I cited to above shows, even by May the “halo” was beginning to crumble.

It seems like months later, the national media is finally starting to catch up to what New York journalists have known for a while. I remember back in March of 2020, there was a brief moment of chatter about Cuomo swooping into the Democratic primary and running for President. Chris Cillizza - who is the Joe Buck of political commentary - wrote a piece then hyping a Cuomo presidential run. Let’s just say I was not impressed:

And here is the primary reason why:

As I wrote back in November, the reason Cuomo’s handling of COVID-19 was so scandalous wasn’t actually because of any specific policy directive. Anyone who has followed him in New York politics knows that Cuomo’s primary issue is corruption. Following the phone call with Kim, other Assembly members are speaking out about how Cuomo rules Albany with an iron fist:

It is part of a larger story that details Cuomo’s long history of obstructing any investigation into his office and brutally attacking anyone who attempts to hold him accountable:

This entire episode isn’t just an indictment of Cuomo; it is an indictment of the media. CNN looks particularly bad, since they bent ethics rules to allow Cuomo and his brother, Fredo, to yuck it up every night. The media should have been a little bit more curious about the leader of a State with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world.

On those nights with The Brothers Cuomo, did CNN viewers turn off their TV knowing that Andrew Cuomo himself was almost indicted for obstruction of justice when he disbanded an independent commission that was looking into corruption in his office? Did they go to sleep knowing that when his closest aide was sent to prison in 2018 - a man so close to Cuomo his father Mario described him as his “third son” - the Judge presiding over the case said, “I hope this sentence will be heard in Albany?”

Any curious journalist could have told you well in advance that the Cuomo Covid Show™ was not going to end well. This also leaves aside the media’s heavy focus this week on Ted Cruz’s idiotic trip to Mexico while his state is basically an ice box. Cruz’s move is bad optics, hypocritical, and stupid (conveniently, if you switch out “bad optics” for “once-in-a-generation ugly,” those three descriptors sum up Cruz quite nicely), but the Cuomo scandal is infinitely bigger news, as it involves potentially criminal wrongdoing.

So, we have now come full circle: The Eastern District of New York - the scrappier little brother of the Southern District of New York - has launched a criminal investigation into the Cuomo Administration’s cover-up of the nursing home deaths.

I know there is some temptation to say, “Well, it was wrong that they covered up nursing home deaths, but ultimately the death count didn’t change.” This misses the significance of Cuomo’s lies. In the early days of COVID-19, we were not dealing with a known, well-understood disease; we were dealing with something entirely new that was poorly understood. Cuomo hiding those numbers obstructed our ability to learn new details about a disease that we were not familiar with: How fast is spread; how quickly it infected older people; how deadly it was to older people, etc. Cuomo’s obstruction almost certainly got people killed and it weakened our ability to compile accurate data about COVID-19’s severity.

I have heard a repeated refrain from people about Cuomo: He will get away with it. Ultimately, they will do an investigation but he will skirt by and never be held accountable. During a podcast I did on Trump’s first impeachment a thousand years ago, I said it was an “American tradition” to just “move on” from corruption, and specifically cited to Andrew Cuomo as someone who was an “outrageously corrupt” public official who is “still not held accountable.” I strongly believe that unchecked public corruption is one of the primary drivers in our country’s eroding faith in democracy. Some of that is related to Trump, who always seems to escape accountability (Mitch McConnell would add “yet” as a qualifier somewhere in this sentence), but it also applies to smaller magistrates like Cuomo. And I think Democrats are underestimating the credibility they will gain if they somehow manage to muster even a small criticism of the guy who sent COVID patients into nursing homes.

Conor Friedersdorf has the best piece on Rush Limbaugh’s terrible legacy.

This piece by Noah Smith (I think this is his third appearance in a row??) about Biden potentially being the “Reagan of the Left” is really good. Here are my general feelings as I watch conservatives latch on to Donald Trump: They are underestimating how successful the Biden Presidency will be. We are about to enter into a period of rapid economic growth, to the point where CEOs of major companies are saying they haven’t seen this much enthusiasm for growth in decades. As we saw with COVID, anything can happen, but it is very likely that Biden will be running for reelection (assuming he runs) in 2024 with a very healthy economy and record job growth.

I loved this discussion of election fraud between Andrew Sullivan and Mike Anton (they cover more topics but it gets boring after the fraud discussion). It is interesting because I think we all know someone - a crazy aunt or a goofy uncle - who believes Trump really won in November and Biden stole the election. Anton pretty much believes the election was fraudulent, but he is not like our aunts and uncles. I’ll explain.

This should give you some comfort: Your kooky relatives and friends do not actually believe that Trump won. They may say they do (loudly), but they really don’t. Do you know how I know that? Because they’re still here. Last year, Elisabeth and I had conversations about what we would do if Trump somehow managed to seize power after losing the election. In other words, what would we have done if Trump became a dictator? Even though the scenario was highly unlikely (to put it mildly), we both agreed that we wouldn’t stick around. Rather than live in a dictatorship, we would move, preferably to Italy. If your friends and relatives truly believed that Biden’s Presidency is the beginning of the Fourth Reich, they’d be getting their affairs in order and shipping off to Brazil. They don’t believe it and they know in their core that Biden won.

Anton is different: He believes that democracy in America is clearly on its way out, so it doesn’t matter who wins the elections anymore. He sort of hints that he doesn’t think any of them have been legitimate in recent years (though he gives it away by suggesting that when Republicans win, they’re on the up and up). It’s an interesting listen. One small caveat: I think Sullivan is way too charitable to Anton, and says he doesn’t think he’s a nut. Anton is definitely a nut and isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

Have a great week my habibis.