Former Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has denied new allegations that he worked on his memoir “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” during the height of the titular COVID-19 pandemic.
Cuomo’s memoir earned a $5.1 million book deal. The chapters of Cuomo’s book are formatted with a date, followed by the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths on that given date.
On Friday, a government watchdog organization called the Empire Center for Public Policy published a chain of emails in which one of Cuomo’s top aides, Melissa DeRosa, allegedly asked staff members to produce a timeline of events detailing the governor’s response to the outbreak of COVID-19. The email chain that resulted included a document with a series of dates as well as numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in a format similar to the chapter headings of Cuomo’s book.
The email chain between DeRosa and Cuomo staff members began on March 30, 2020, and ran through April 18, 2020. The series of emails took place around the time New York saw the height of its first wave of COVID-19 cases. Cuomo was the subject of numerous articles praising his daily COVID-19 press briefings, and he even received an Emmy award for his pandemic press conferences. By 2021, allegations had grown that the governor’s office hid or delayed reports indicating increased COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
While the email chain contained no specific mention of a forthcoming book, Cuomo speechwriter Jamie Malinowski responded to the chain with an April 18, 2020, email describing how another staffer had been working on the “tick tock,” in a potential reference to the timeline of COVID-19 response events. Malinowski then wrote, “Here is a preface I’ve been working on,” followed by several passages that appeared to have been written in Cuomo’s authorial voice. One portion of the staffer’s preface described how “I would deliver the State of the State address,” and another said, “during my first nine years as governor, we created a record of accomplishments across a wide range of issues.”
Cuomo’s 10th State of the State Address took place on Jan. 8, 2020, more than three months before Malinowski’s preface email.
The Empire Center noted the email exchanges between March 30 and April 18, 2020, as evidence to corroborate assessments made in a November 2021 impeachment investigation report against Cuomo.
The 2021 impeachment report, completed by the New York Assembly’s Democrat-majority Judiciary Committee, alleged that a “Penguin Random House (‘PRH’) employee reached out to a literary agent representing then-Governor Cuomo to see if the then-Governor was interested in writing a book” on March 19, 2020. According to the impeachment report, the literary agent responded on July 1, 2020, and told the PRH employee that Cuomo “had been writing a book” about his COVID-19 pandemic response and said Cuomo “already had 70,000 words written.”
According to the impeachment report, the New York State Department of Health discovered “that for a period of approximately two weeks in April and/or May 2020, certain fatalities in nursing home facilities due to COVID-19 were not included in the published data. Specifically, deaths reported by nursing homes after approximately 5:00 p.m. each day were not included in totals for that day, and therefore the published data was incomplete.”
The Empire Center argued that the new emails bolster the case that Cuomo “improperly benefited from the use of government resources” to produce his memoir and “the project distracted state officials and possibly affected their decision-making in the middle of the crisis.”
Cuomo’s Team Denies ‘Defamatory’ Allegations
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, disputed the allegations raised by the Empire Center.
“What is being alleged here is reckless and false,” Azzopardi told the organization. “The emails have NOTHING to do with work on the book, which began months later. The timeline was to inform the daily briefings, speeches and other COVID-related materials.”
Azzopardi also addressed Malinowski’s email describing a “preface,” saying, “of course a speechwriter would produce language in the Governor’s voice.”
The Empire Center included Azzopardi’s comments in an update to their original report, but the Cuomo spokesman posted on Twitter that the report is “still false & defamatory.”
“Had the @empirecenter reached out to me before the post, much of this could have been cleared up on the front end,” Azzopardi added.
Gregory Morvillo, a lawyer for DeRosa, also told the New York Post that “any article that states that Melissa DeRosa directed anyone to work on Gov. Cuomo’s book in March and/or April 2020 is false and reckless.”
Morvillo also said any work DeRosa did to assist Cuomo on the book was done on a voluntary basis outside of normal business hours.
Malinoski told the New York Post he had no knowledge Cuomo was working on a book. He told the publication that his “preface” was meant to be a “narrative” for speeches or discussions but acknowledged, “I guess that could be used in a book.”