ALBANY – Andrew Cuomo's time as governor ended in disgrace. His time as an author also is not going well.
The state approval that led to a controversial deal that Cuomo signed in 2020 to write a book about how he led New York through the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic was improper, a state ethics panel said Tuesday.
After previous bids by some board members failed, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted 12-1 to undo permission that was given by agency staff – a move that could be a costly one for Cuomo.
A lawyer for Cuomo Tuesday suggested the JCOPE action would be the subject of civil litigation.
Some JCOPE board members have been puzzled by the approval granted by staff deputy counsel Martin Levine, in July 2020 – an arrangement that has since been under investigation by Attorney General Letitia James and the Assembly Judiciary Committee over allegations that Cuomo used his own state government aides to help him with the book.
Some JCOPE board members said such a publishing arrangement should have been approved by the full board, not just a staff member of the agency.
In the approval process last year, Cuomo, through his state counsel Judith Mogul, agreed not to use any state personnel or property to write “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
The book, capitalizing on Cuomo’s national fame during the early months of the Covid pandemic, was criticized as a self-congratulatory effort to profit on his name recognition.
Cuomo also heavily promoted sales of the book through national TV and other media outlets, helping him earn $5.1 million. In the ethics request last year, Cuomo’s counsel described the 2020 book as a “continuation” of a previous memoir he wrote. That 2014 book, “All Things Possible," made Cuomo $783,000, despite anemic sales and no publicity tour on the governor's part.
Cuomo has also agreed that the book would be “unrelated” to his official duties as governor.
Crown Publishing halted promotion and further copies of the book following the mounting allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed a number of women, which eventually led to his resignation.
The JCOPE vote Tuesday means Cuomo would have to reapply to the full board for approval, a dicey venture for the ex-governor. If denied by the board, or if Cuomo does not apply again, the state could seek to impose fines on him or force him to pay back to his publisher at least some of the profits he made.
The Cuomo administration in the past insisted that no state resources were used to help Cuomo, and that staff who did provide him assistance did so on their own personal time.
“These JCOPE members are acting outside the scope of their authority and are carrying the water of the politicians who appointed them," Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the former governor, said in a statement Tuesday. He said it was "hypocrisy" for Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature’s appointees, because he said they often use staff for political and personal assistance.
Noting Tuesday was the third move by the JCOPE board to rescind the JCOPE staff approval given Cuomo in 2020, Azzopardi called it “nothing more than Albany political corruption at its worst."
Jim McGuire, a lawyer for Cuomo, later said: "We look forward to vigorously contesting in court any efforts JCOPE makes to enforce this baseless and improper decision."
The motion on Tuesday to rescind the staff approval of the Cuomo book was made by David McNamara, a Senate Republican appointee and a lawyer in the Buffalo and New York City offices of Phillips Lytle. The item was put on the agenda by board chairman Jose Nieves, a Queens lawyer and an appointee of Hochul.
The resolution the board adopted stated that Cuomo did not abide by certain terms of the ethics approval letter, including use of state resources and property. It said there were "material omissions and misrepresentations" in the ethics request from Cuomo's office and that the book was either "completed or substantially completed" before Cuomo even sought the ethics agency's approval.
When the state attorney general this summer unveiled her investigation of sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, she said a probe into the book matter was continuing. The attorney general has since announced her own run for governor against Hochul. Cuomo aides have called the attorney general’s probe politically motivated by a fellow Democrat who wanted his job.
Cuomo resigned from office Aug. 23.
On Thursday and Friday, members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee will meet privately to review the findings of that panel’s investigation into Cuomo on a series of issues, including the book deal.
William Fisher, a Cuomo appointee still on the JCOPE panel, was the sole no vote on Monday. Other board members approving the motion to rescind the staff book approval included appointees of Hochul and the top Democratic leaders of the Legislature.