NY attorney general granted power to launch probe into Cuomo's COVID-19 book

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Dennis Slattery, New York Daily News
·3 min read
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ALBANY, N.Y. — Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has formally called on Attorney General Letitia James to probe whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo misused state resources while writing and promoting his pandemic-themed book.

DiNapoli penned a letter to James last week requesting a criminal investigation and referring to allegations that “public resources may have been used in the development and production of the governor’s book.”

The New York Times first reported on the letter on Monday.

Cuomo has come under fire amid multiple reports that staffers and senior aides were enlisted to assist in writing, editing and doing other tasks associated with the tome.

The book, titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic,” is a first-person account of Cuomo’s management of the crisis and was released last October as the state hurtled toward a second coronavirus wave.

The Times first revealed last month that Cuomo allegedly used staffers to help with the manuscript and that he was reportedly offered more than $4 million for the book deal.

Officials with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics reportedly approved the book deal last summer on the condition that government staff not be used.

The book has become a flashpoint of controversy as critics raised questions about the timing of its publication.

In his referral letter, DiNapoli states that a criminal probe could address the potential “use of property, services or resources of the state for personal purposes, private business purposes or other compensated non-governmental purposes by the executive chamber.”

“I further confer to you the authority to prosecute the person or persons believed to have committed the same and any crime or offense arising out of such investigation or prosecution, or both,” he added.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office confirmed receipt of the comptroller’s letter, but said he could not comment further on an “ongoing investigation.”

Earlier Monday, Cuomo dismissed the idea that anyone was ordered to assist in penning or promoting the book.

“Some people volunteered to review the book. You look at the people who are mentioned in the book, I wanted to make sure they were OK with the book, that it represented what they did and represented the facts,” he said.

Senior Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi went further in his denial, while also implying that the referral may be politically motivated, and said any state official who “volunteered to assist on this project did so on his or her own time and without the use of state resources.”

“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,” he said. “This is Albany politics at its worst — both the Comptroller and the Attorney General have spoken to people about running for Governor and it is unethical to wield criminal referral authority to further political self-interest‎.”

Neither James nor DiNapoli has publicly expressed interest in running for governor next year. DiNapoli did join the chorus of those calling on Cuomo to resign last month as multiple women came forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

James’ office is already overseeing a probe into the allegations leveled against the governor, including those made by several current and former staffers. The claims have led to calls for Cuomo to step down from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, are looking into whether the governor and top administration officials deliberately hid the true number of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.

Cuomo is also facing an impeachment inquiry being run by the Assembly that is probing the harassment claims, the nursing home deaths as well as the governor’s book deal

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