The ultra-secretive New York state ethics panel said Friday it is looking into formal complaints that Gov. Andrew Cuomo used government staffers to help write his COVID memoir and administered preferential swab tests to relatives during the early days of the pandemic.
Following a two-and-hour private session, Joint Commission on Public Ethics counsel Monica Stann issued the statement saying JCOPE “discussed” and authorized” steps into unnamed “investigative matters.”
Stann declined to identify the target or targets of the probes, but the unusual emergency JCOPE meeting was called following new accusations that Cuomo had abused his power during the pandemic.
JCOPE went into private session just minutes after Commissioner George Weissman read a statement complaining that he and other GOP appointees were denied information about important matters.
“Commissioners are now being told that to be denied information confidential or otherwise, is confidential in and of itself,” Weissman said.
He called that reasoning “reducto ad absurdum.”
Aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are pushing back against his administration’s claim that they “volunteered” to help with his pandemic memoir, it was revealed Thursday.
Several current and former Cuomo staffers told the Times-Union that their work on the best-selling book was “expected” — despite not being official government work.
“It was not optional,” said one former aide, who was among those asked to perform tasks related to Cuomo’s tome.
“It was considered a part of your job,” the person added. “Everyone knew that you did what was asked of you and opting-out was never really an option.”
The handling of Cuomo’s book deal was problematic from the start, Commissioner Gary Lavine told The Post.
Cuomo’s application to obtain outside income from the book was never discussed or approved by JCOPE commissioners, he said.
Instead, Lavine said, the book proposal was only approved by JCOPE’s staff.
“This was illegal in my opinion,” Lavine said. “The legislative appointees to JCOPE didn’t get the information. It’s wrong. It’s inappropriate.”
Under the law, JCOPE commissioners are forbidden from discussing internal probes, and can face misdemeanor charges if they divulge information. JCOPE releases public information after it has substantiated wrongdoing or reaches a settlement with the subject of a probe.
Under the law, commissioners have veto power to block probes of their appointees.
JCOPE has been criticized for treating Cuomo and his top brass with kid gloves.
The commission never took formal action against former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, even though it was clearly established at his federal corruption trial that he violated the state Public Officers Law by using state resources to run Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign.
In a letter to the JCOPE last month, state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) asked for a probe of Cuomo after state health department after reports surfaced that state health department workers were used to give COVID tests to his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, his mom, Matilda and other relatives and favored associates.
Cuomo’s alleged conduct “appears to be a very clear, straightforward violation” of state law,” Ortt told JCOPE.
Cuomo faces other state and federal probes involving allegations that he covered-up nursing home deaths from COVID-19 and that he sexually harassed female staffers.
The governor has repeatedly denied that he or his administration acted inappropriately.