ALBANY – The New York State comptroller has issued a referral authorizing the state attorney general to begin a possible criminal investigation into Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s use of state resources in relation to his most recent book.
The potential investigation follows a March 31 report in The New York Times and subsequent reporting in other publications that detailed how junior staff members and senior aides worked on “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic,” the governor’s dramatic retelling of the battle against the virus.
The office of the state attorney general, Letitia James, did not have any immediate comment on the comptroller’s letter, though in most cases, such a referral would trigger an investigation.
The governor, a third-term Democrat, has insisted that any work done on the book by government employees was voluntary, allowing that some minor work may have been “incidental.”
But Thomas P. DiNapoli, the Democratic state comptroller, suggested that a potential criminal investigation was warranted after allegations surfaced that “public resources may have been used in the development of the governor’s book.”
The potential inquiry would center on “any indictable offense or offenses” involving, but not limited to, “the drafting, editing, sale and promotion of the governor’s book and any related financial or business transactions,” according to an April 13 letter that Mr. DiNapoli sent to Ms. James.
The formal referral letter — which satisfies a technical prerequisite for the attorney general to begin a potential criminal inquiry — gives Ms. James, a Democrat, the authority to prosecute “any crime or offense arising out of such investigation.”
Mr. Cuomo on Monday reiterated that some members of his staff had volunteered to work on the book, and that some were also asked to review passages that mentioned them. His office had no immediate comment regarding Mr. DiNapoli’s request.
The state’s Public Officers Law, which governs ethics for elected officials and state employees, prohibits using “property, services or other resources of the state for private business or other compensated nongovernmental purposes.”
The misuse of public resources has led to the downfall of numerous political figures, including a former state comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, who resigned and pleaded guilty to a felony in 2006 after he used a state driver to run errands for his wife.
The potential investigation would deepen the legal and political woes confronting Mr. Cuomo, who has seen his once-soaring career hobbled as he faces separate scandals involving his personal behavior and professional conduct, including a federal investigation into his handling of the state’s nursing homes during the pandemic.
Ms. James is already overseeing an inquiry into multiple allegations of sexual harassment against the governor.
Most of the state’s congressional delegation, and many of his fellow Democrats in Albany, have called on Mr. Cuomo to resign. He has steadfastly resisted, pleading for time while Ms. James’s investigation into the sexual harassment allegations is complete.
The State Assembly has opened a separate inquiry into those allegations, as well as the administration’s withholding of a full account of the death toll among nursing home residents. The chair of the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, Charles D. Lavine, has said that investigators hired by his committee — the private firm of Davis Polk — would also examine the book deal and use of state resources.
“American Crisis,” which was released by Crown Publishing Group in mid-October, just as a second wave of the coronavirus began to swell in New York, has seen its sales stall during the governor’s political travails this year. Mr. Cuomo, 63, has declined to say how much he was paid for the manuscript, but people with knowledge of the book’s bidding process said that at least one offer had topped $4 million.
Mr. Cuomo, whose previous memoir sold poorly when it was published in 2014, began writing “American Crisis” as early as mid-June, when the state’s death toll was already in the tens of thousands. He often dictated passages into a cellphone, which were later printed out and edited by members of his staff, according to several current and former aides and documents obtained by the Times.
The governor’s work and pitching of the book also corresponded with a period in which his most senior aides were reshaping a report about nursing home deaths, omitting the full death toll in a way that might have insulated the governor from criticism on that issue.
New York remains one of the hardest-hit states in the nation, with more than 51,000 Covid-related deaths reported so far.
A poll from Siena College on Monday found that the number of voters with a favorable view of the governor had dropped to 40 percent, a 16-point decline from February and the lowest mark of his decade-long tenure. But 51 percent also said the governor should not “immediately resign,” consistent with prior polls, with 37 percent saying he should.
There were also indications that Mr. Cuomo’s prospects for a fourth term were in jeopardy. Just 33 percent of those polled said they would vote to re-elect him in 2022; 57 said they would “prefer someone else.”
The poll of 801 New York State registered voters was conducted from April 1 to 15, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Danny Hakim contributed reporting.