By MARINA VILLENEUVE
The Associated Press
ALBANY — New York’s attorney general is investigating whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo broke the law by having members of his staff help write and promote his pandemic leadership book.
In a letter dated April 13, made public Monday, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli authorized Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the work state employees did on drafting and editing the book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which was released last fall.
James’ office confirmed it received the referral letter but declined further comment, citing an “ongoing investigation.”
Cuomo and his spokespeople have acknowledged that senior members of his staff helped with the book, but they’ve insisted the work was done on a voluntary basis on their private time.
DiNapoli, an independently elected fiscal officer, asked James to investigate the “alleged commission of any indictable offense or offenses in violation of” laws barring public officials from using state resources for private purposes.
DiNapoli authorized the attorney general to convene a grand jury, if she chose to do so, and prosecute anyone believed to have violated those laws.
A spokesperson for Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, dismissed the idea of an investigation as a political stunt.
“We have officially jumped the shark,” he said in a statement. “The idea there was criminality involved here is patently absurd on its face and is just the furthering of a political pile-on. 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.”
“This is Albany politics at its worst,” he added. “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.”
The inquiry adds to a pile of trouble facing Cuomo, who like DiNapoli and James is a Democrat.
The attorney general is separately investigating allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed women, including one who accused him of groping her breasts. The state Assembly is investigating whether to impeach Cuomo over the sexual harassment claims, and other matters, including his administration’s decision to conceal data related to COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Federal prosecutors are also probing Cuomo’s handling of COVID-19 data.
Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately and defended his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes as having saved lives.
Cuomo received permission from state ethics commissioners last year to write his book — with conditions.
He had to write the book on “his own time and not on state time,” according to state ethics rules. And, “no state property, personnel or other resources” could be used.