WSJ Opinion: The Great Cuomo Covid Scandal

A New York governor's fall from liberal grace. Photo: Associated Press

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

PAUL GIGOT: Federal prosecutors have, according to press reports, opened an investigation into the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over its handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The news comes after a top aide to the governor admitted last week that the state had deliberately concealed the true number of nursing home deaths amid fears that the Trump administration would politicize it. At a briefing this week, Cuomo declined to apologize for his administration's decision to withhold that data, saying, instead, that the lack of information created a void that was exploited by his political opponents.

ANDREW CUOMO: We created the void by not producing enough public information quickly enough. I get that. But then it was exploited with misinformation, people playing politics, Republicans playing politics, personal attacks, personal agendas.

PAUL GIGOT: We're back with Dan Henninger, Allysia Finley, and "Wall Street" journal columnist Bill McGurn. So Bill, let's take the merits first of this. How big a scandal is this for Cuomo in the nursing homes in the way he handled it?

WILLIAM MCGURN: Well, I think it's a tremendous scandal. And it's not so much the decision to have COVID-infected people go back into nursing homes. You know, you may be able to defend that at the knowledge on the time.

But this admission of a cover up, the woman you mentioned, Melissa DeRosa, you know, it's so hard to prove an obstruction of justice that there was an intent to deceive. But basically in that taped conversation with other Democrats, she basically says, well, we had the information, but we hid it because we were afraid of prosecution.

So I think he's in-- he's in real trouble. What's interesting this time is there's nothing new about Andrew Cuomo. He's gotten into this spitting match with Assemblyman Ron Kim. He supposedly called them up and said he'd destroy him.

You know as, Bill de Blasio points out, this is classic Andrew Cuomo. He's been doing this for years. But now it seems there's at least a portion of Democrats turning against him. And he's got so much other bad news.

The Empire Center came out with a study saying that that March 25 directive about letting COVID-infected people back into a nursing home may have been responsible for 1,000 extra deaths. And you've got an impeachment commission in the state assembly. It's just a lot of bad news, and I'm not sure he's going to be able to bully his way out of this one.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, Dan, this is fascinating because not too long ago, Andrew Cuomo was the great hero of COVID. Remember, he was the anti-Trump. He was the person. He won an Emmy award for his performances on a daily basis, supposedly informing the public of the state of COVID. But you wrote this week that Cuomo in many ways was a lot like Trump when it comes to COVID. What did you-- explain that for people.

DANIEL HENNINGER: Well, he just would not take responsibility for his mistakes. And you know, that presentations by Andrew Cuomo that were being broadcast daily on "CNN" and "MSNBC," that was just the highlight film.

I mean, those of us in New York knew that Andrew Cuomo was at cross purposes with the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, mayors all around the state, school boards all around the state. And rather than try to work with them, Andrew Cuomo-- as did to some extent, Donald Trump-- simply tried to impose his personality on the COVID crisis inside New York state.

And when this nursing home incident happened-- and it was pointed out that he was claiming that's half the size of what was occurring in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and other adjoining states-- he simply denied it. And that was a very kind of Trumpian thing to do. And now, as Bill just described, he has dug himself very in deep.

I have to say, Paul, I find the original denial incomprehensible. We were in the fog of a pandemic war. Why Andrew Cuomo couldn't simply have said, we made a mistake, we apologize, and we're moving forward, I do not understand. But now he does have a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn looking into what exactly they were doing back then.

PAUL GIGOT: The prosecutor aside, Allysia, what do you think the political consequences of this will be? New York's a one-party state, not unlike California. And Democrats would have to really go after Cuomo if there wants to be-- if there's going to be any real political consequences.

ALLYSIA FINLEY: Right. But I think right now in the immediate term, I think the legislature is looking at stripping him of his emergency powers, which I think would be a very solitary development. He's abused those powers for-- in all kinds of ways to impose restrictions on houses of worship, other businesses not rooted in science, basically political.

Long-term, and he's probably going to have-- be under more pressure, political pressure. I mean, Letitia James, she's very ambitious. And no doubt progressives will want to take him out.

PAUL GIGOT: Bill, do you think that this could be a political watershed for Cuomo, who's ruled this-- this state kind of like Machiavelli-advised, right? It's better for the ruler to be feared than loved.

DANIEL HENNINGER: Yeah. Exactly to that. One of his aides many years ago said they had two modes for people-- get along or kill. And so there's lot of resentment you build up with an approach like that.

So right now it's Ron Kim. He's got, I think, a dozen Democrats supporting him in a letter. The Letitia James investigation that Allysia alluded to, I mean, that was a big deal even though it was tepid, the fact that she would even write a report.

And you know, what it recalls to me is that when Eliot Spitzer was governor and got in a [INAUDIBLE], it was Andrew Cuomo as attorney general that did a report on him that helped take him down. So maybe some of these people are seeing the path to Albany open up a little bit.