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Attorney general gets OK to probe Cuomo book deal

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office

New York state’s comptroller is authorizing the state’s attorney general to begin a potential criminal probe of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s book deal, looking into whether he used his staff to help him write a memoir about his handling of the pandemic.

The referral from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli allows Attorney General Tish James to look into whether senior and junior staffers were coerced into helping the governor write and edit the book, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic," or whether they simply volunteered their time, as the governor claims.

The referral letter, first reported in the New York Times, says, “allegations have recently emerged that public resources may have been used in the development and promotion of the Governor’s book."

Numerous published reports say top aides helped the governor edit and promote the book, while lower-level staffers were required to print out draft copies on state printers and deliver them to the governor’s mansion.

The state’s ethics panel, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, told the governor last summer that he could not use state property, resources or personnel to help him produce or promote the book.

Using those public resources without compensating the state would be a violation of the state’s public officers law. 

The comptroller’s letter gives the attorney general the go-ahead to look at “any indictable offenses,” including the “drafting, editing, sale and promotion of the governor’s book and any related financial or business transactions.” The attorney general would have the authority to convene a grand jury and, ultimately, prosecute anyone the investigation finds may have committed a crime.

Cuomo was asked during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters whether government officials were used to help him write the book.

“Some people volunteered to help on the book,” Cuomo said.

The governor also said that some people were asked to review the book on a voluntary basis, because their names were mentioned and he wanted to make sure he had the facts straight.

The book is reported to have earned the governor $4 million. Cuomo declined to confirm that number, but said he will release more information when he makes his tax returns public next month.

“And you will see everything you want to see in the personal income taxes,” Cuomo said.

A spokesperson for James confirmed that the referral was received but said they won’t “comment further on an ongoing investigation at this time.”

The attorney general is already investigating Cuomo on sexual harassment charges from multiple women. And federal prosecutors are looking into a possible cover-up of nursing home deaths during the pandemic by Cuomo and top aides.

In addition, the state Assembly is looking into the governor’s book deal as part of an ongoing impeachment inquiry.

The governor’s book was initially a bestseller, but the publisher decided not to print more copies after the controversy over the nursing home death numbers surfaced.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor, offered a vociferous defense, and accused the comptroller and attorney general of wanting to take Cuomo’s job for themselves.

“We have officially jumped the shark -- the idea there was criminality involved here is patently absurd on its face and is just the furthering of a political pile-on,” said Azzopardi, who added all work on the book by any state employees was voluntary.  

Azzopardi did say that state printers were used to make copies of drafts of the book, but said it was “incidental."

He said DiNapoli and James are acting in their own “political self-interest,” and he claims both have “spoken to people about running for governor."

“This is Albany politics at its worst,” Azzopardi said.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.