Politics

New York AG investigating Cuomo’s use of aides on book

Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes off his face mask before a news conference in New York on Monday, April 19, 2021. New York’s comptroller has asked the state attorney general’s office to launch a criminal investigation into whether the governor used state resources to write and promote his book on leadership in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shannon Stapleton/Pool via AP)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — 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, but made public Monday, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli authorized State 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 him with the book, but they’ve insisted that work was done on a voluntary basis on their private time.

DiNapoli, an independently elected fiscal officer, wrote he was concerned that public resources were used. He asked James to investigate the “alleged commission of any indictable offense or offenses in violation of” laws that restrict the use of state property and resources for “personal purposes, private business purposes or other compensated non-governmental purposes.”

DiNapoli authorized the attorney general to convene a grand jury, if she chose to do so, and prosecute any one 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.”

Cuomo’s office hasn’t provided direct responses to a list of questions from The Associated Press, including the total number of staffers who helped Cuomo with the book and whether Cuomo received compensation based on how many books were sold. Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately respond to request for comment Monday.

Azzopardi has previously said that people who helped with the project “did so on their own time” and that Cuomo’s office made every effort to ensure no state resources were used. “To the extent an aide printed out a document, it appears incidental,” he said.

Cuomo, a Democrat, 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.

The governor said Monday that he asked some people who he mentioned in the book to “review” it.

“On the book, some people volunteered to review the book,” Cuomo said in a teleconference call Monday. “You look at the people who are mentioned in the book. I wanted to make sure they were okay with the mention.”

Azzopardi has also disputed criticism about Cuomo discussing the book in news conferences and media appearances: “An offhand mention about writing a book, or answering questions from the media about it in no way is an advertisement of endorsement of it.”

Cuomo has also repeatedly declined to reveal how much he has made for his book.

The governor, who allows reporters to view personal income tax filings each year, said Monday that he would disclose financial details in those tax documents: “You will see everything you want to see in the personal income taxes.”

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AP reporter Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.

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