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Report: Cuomo went after state Dem lawmaker for criticism over COVID-19 nursing home deaths

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THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH COMMENT FROM GOV. CUOMO’S OFFICE

A New York State assemblyman from Queens says Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) threatened that he would be “destroyed” if he did not help contain the damage over Cuomo’s cover-up of nursing home deaths from COVID-19, according to a Wednesday report from The New York Post.

On Wednesday, Assemblyman Ron Kim (D) said the governor phoned him Thursday night, shortly after The Post reported Secretary to the Governor Melissa de Rosa admitted to Democratic lawmakers that Cuomo’s administration withheld death data out of fear that it would be “used against us” by federal prosecutors.

“At first, there was a silence on the phone,” Kim said, according to The Post. “Then the governor says, ‘Mr. Kim, are you an honorable man?’”

Kim—who was reportedly in the middle of bathing his children—said Cuomo asked him to draft a statement “to say that Melissa de Rosa said there was a federal investigation and they had to deal with that first,” The Post reported.

During the phone call, Kim said that Cuomo warned him, “You have not seen my wrath. I have been biting my tongue for months.”

“I can tell the whole world what a bad person you are and you will be finished,” Kim recalled Cuomo saying.

“You will be destroyed,” the governor reportedly told him.

According to Kim, Cuomo was so angry that “my wife could hear the governor yelling into the phone.”

At one point, The Post reports, Cuomo, who used to be the New York attorney general, also asked Kim if he was a lawyer, which he isn’t.

“After that call, we were devastated. My wife didn’t sleep at all,” Kim said

After that, the governor “called me four or five times on Saturday” but he didn’t pick up the phone, Kim said.

Gov. Cuomo’s office doubled down on its criticism of Kim, saying in a statement to this reporter:

“Mr. Kim is lying about his conversation with Governor Cuomo Thursday night. I know because I was one of three other people in the room when the phone call occurred. At no time did anyone threaten to ‘destroy’ anyone with their ‘wrath’ nor engage in a ‘coverup.’ That’s beyond the pale and is unfortunately part of a years-long pattern of lies by Mr. Kim against this administration. We did ask for Mr. Kim to do the honorable thing and put out a truthful statement after he told the Governor he was misquoted in a news article, which he said he tried to correct but the reporter refused. Kim said he would correct the story and then broke his word. No surprise. Instead over the last six days he has baselessly accused this administration of pay to play and obstruction of justice. These continued falsehoods are why the Governor chose to speak out today. We will not allow an unscrupulous politician to deceive New Yorkers or distort the truth. Mr. Kim’s current statements do not even align with the comments he made at the meeting (see below). He is without credibility as his own words demonstrate. Lies have caused families grieving from COVID enough pain. We understand it is our obligation to correct misstatements so families understand the true facts during COVID.

“Mr. Kim and the Governor’s office have had a long, hostile relationship. The animosity initiated when Mr. Kim supported a bill protecting nail salon workers only to do a 180 degree reversal after he received significant funding from the owners of the nail salons. He was criticized by good government groups at the time and the Governor’s office called his actions into question. Mr. Kim continues to receive funding from nail salon owners and continues his attempts to remove the protections for nail salon workers. It is an ongoing unethical situation with Kim receiving funding from owners attempting to stop our efforts to protect victimized nail salon workers. We believe Kim’s continuing pay-to-play actions are at a minimum unethical and when and if investigated will prove to be illegal. To be clear, neither the Governor nor his aides threatened any legislators and in fact, the meeting in questions was considered positive by those who attended. It is the distortions of the meeting by those with different agendas that we object to.

“On the merits Mr. Kim and the NY Post and republicans argue that the state’s March 25th order on nursing homes was bad policy. What they fail to mention is the state was following federal policy and if the Post and republicans want to play a political blame game, they should blame Donald Trump and they should have blamed Donald Trump’s since last March 25th when they promulgated the guidance. We will stick to the facts.

“Dr. Zucker does not believe the March 25th order was wrong. Even with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, health experts do not believe it was wrong. We believe it saved lives and the facts demonstrate that. If, with the advantage of hindsight, we concluded the March 25th order was wrong, Commissioner Howard Zucker would admit that and we would take action against the federal government for malpractice in issuing flawed guidance. COVID was already in the nursing homes by the time March 25th arrived. That is a proven fact. Hospital beds were critical. And that is a proven fact. People needed hospital beds with ventilators and critical care nursing staff to save their lives. We provided that. Unlike other states and countries our hospital system was not overwhelmed and we went from the highest infect rate to the lowest and saved lives. That is the irrefutable truth. 

“We do agree that we did not provide enough public information quickly enough which created a void for conspiracy theories to flourish. We accept responsibility for creating the void and in a perfect world, the conspiracy theorists would accept responsibility also. In a more perfect world the conspiracy theorists would stop playing politics and negatively effecting the grieving families who lost loved ones in nursing homes. Obviously in this toxic political environment, it is not a perfect world.”

The governor’s office also included a rushed transcription of Kim’s comments made during a Zoom conference call with state legislators:

“Assemblyman Kim: You should definitely go through. I just gotta hop off, I’m sorry, but just to summarize, I think I’m gonna go through the questions, Commissioner and Ms. DeRosa, I’ll probably have some follow up with them as well. But just moving forward, I think the public just wants to get past this. Commissioner when you, when you came to see us in the Assembly chamber last year, and you wanted to expand the Governor’s powers and we asked for $40 million to get ahead of the coronavirus, many of my colleagues did not want to do that, they did not want to give the Governor those powers. I was one of the few ones that stood up for the Governor. And so it’s this is not about whether you personally like him or not like him. This is a moment that we need to cheer him on, but we need to get behind this executive, because everyone is scared and everyone wants someone to step in and do this right, and I had a lot of faith that we were going to get it right. But over the last few months I think we did lose a lot of trust. Because of lack of communication, for the lack of that, I know we went through all the reasons why. And I just want to get past this. I want to move forward. And I want to get solutions, and I know that we touched on a few items but before I leave, I mean if we can just follow up. Legal immunity, a possible sort of compensation funds for the victims, a structure, some of civil framework a discussion around that. The ombudsman program, someone just mentioned it. I know that Senator May has been passionately talking about giving that some teeth, so they actually have the power to do their jobs. The increasing penalties was just mentioned, and some sort of a recognition, and maybe an apology for the March 25. I know this is something that is a sensitive issue, and no one wants to talk about it, but I think the families, the public I think just recognize, appreciate some sort of honesty, but just, just the recognition of their pain, and I think some sort of contriteness from the Administration would go a very long way. So that’s all I have for today, I really appreciate your time, I know you’re all very busy. Thank you so much and I’ll follow up with other questions. Thank you.”

Kim has been very critical of Cuomo ever since his uncle, Son Kim, died in a nursing home back in April after suffering from symptoms of the coronavirus.

Furthermore, he introduced legislation on Tuesday to strip the governor of his pandemic-related emergency powers, and he also penned a letter co-signed by eight Assembly Democrats alleging that Cuomo broke the federal law against obstruction of justice, according to The Post.

However, during a press briefing earlier on Wednesday, the governor went after Kim, per The Post.

One of the things Cuomo hurled at Kim was an allegation that Kim switched his position on a 2015 law regulating nail salons because “businesspeople in his community got upset.”

“He actually used his lobbying firm to lobby on behalf of the business owners […] then raised money from those business owners and continues to do so,” Cuomo alleged on Wednesday.

“I believe it’s unethical, if not illegal. And I believe it’s a continuing racket because he’s still doing it.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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EXCLUSIVE: Former Trump appointee explains an ‘America First Strategy’ in the ME

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Photo: Israeli Government

The author interviewed Ellie Cohanim, one of the authors of the new book: “An America First Approach to US National Security.” Ellie is the former U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism under the Trump administration. She is currently a Senior Fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum focusing on Iran, Israel, and global antisemitism, and is a national security contributor for the Christian Broadcasting Network. In 2021, Ellie launched and hosted for Jewish News Syndicate 30 plus episodes of the show “Global Perspectives with Ellie Cohanim.” Ellie spent 15 years in media and NGO management before serving in the public sector. How would you define an “America First” strategy in the Middle East?

Cohanim: An America First strategy in the Middle East would seek to advance American national security interests in that region, while maintaining our status as THE global superpower. To do that, the US would ensure that our principal allies in the region, countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, are economically and militarily strong, and that our adversaries in the region are deterred.

Postal: How has the United States’ standing in the Middle East differed between the Trump and Biden administrations?

Cohanim: Under President Trump, for four years we had peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. Under President Biden, in just three tumultuous years there has been war in the region, which holds the potential for becoming a regional conflict and even a nuclear confrontation. Meanwhile, the US’ status in the region and the world has diminished due to Biden’s disastrous mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, his emboldening of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and his weak response to Iranian attacks on our personnel and assets in the region. 

 

Postal: Do you think the United States and Israel are/were in a stronger position to deter Iran’s nuclear and territorial ambitions in Biden or Trump’s administration?

Cohanim: America’s position of strength has not changed under either administration vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran. What has changed is our Iran policy. Under President Trump’s administration, the US contained and constrained Tehran. Trump applied a “Maximum Pressure” sanctions campaign which left the Iranian Regime with only $4 billion in accessible foreign currency reserves by the end of his term, giving the Iranians less cash and less ability to fund their terror proxies and their nuclear program, and Trump eliminated Qassem Soleimani. While all President Biden needed to do was to continue implementing such successful policies, his administration instead did the exact opposite.  Under the Biden administration, Israel, our leading ally in the region, was attacked for the first time directly from Iranian soil. This was an unprecedented escalatory attack by the Iranian regime, and could only happen under the Biden administration.

Postal: In your chapter of the book, you discuss the weakening of US relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia under the Biden administration. How has the Biden administration affected the likelihood of future normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and deals between Israel and other Muslim countries (i.e., new Abraham Accords)?

Cohanim: The good news is that the Abraham Accords have withstood the test of multiple Hamas provocations against Israel, and now the current war. Despite numerous claims from the Biden administration regarding “successful” efforts to normalize ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, I do not think that the Biden administration will be able to clinch such a deal. In the Middle East, people have a long memory. Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has not forgotten President Biden’s snub when he first came into office, and Biden’s incredibly poorly advised behavior towards the Crown Prince when he made his first visit to the Kingdom as president. The last thing the Crown Prince wants is to hand Biden his first foreign policy success with a Rose Garden peace deal ceremony. So, I do not believe President Biden can broker Saudi/Israeli normalization.

However, I am also convinced that it is a matter of “when” and not “if” such a peace deal will happen between those two countries, as it serves both of their interests to make such a deal. The Saudis understand better than anyone that it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that threatens the Kingdom’s security and stability, not Israel.

Postal: What do you think of the Biden administration’s latest statements withholding arms to Israel?

Cohanim: President Biden will go down in history for his abject moral failure in not standing by Israel while she fights a five-front war. Biden has shown his despicable personality for trying to keep his anti-Israel arms embargo concealed until he could first deliver a speech on the Holocaust. Biden’s behavior is despicable on so many levels.

Ultimately, Biden is betraying the American people. He came into office presenting himself as a “centrist Democrat,” but has proven repeatedly to be beholden to the radical, extremist, pro-Hamas wing of his party.

Postal: How does the Biden administration’s support of a Palestinian state differ from the Trump administration’s support of a Palestinian state under its Peace to Prosperity framework?

Cohanim: The Biden administration stated that they will “unilaterally recognize” a Palestinian state. What the borders of that state are and who would lead it, nobody knows. 

The Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” was a detailed plan that was premised on the realities on the ground in Israel. The plan required that the Palestinians reach benchmarks proving a real desire to live in peace with their Israeli neighbors. It included over $50 billion in investment in the region, which would have been a road to prosperity for all. Perhaps most significantly, the Palestinian state envisioned under the Trump plan would have been demilitarized, the wisdom of which could not be more clear following the October 7 massacre and attack.

The author would like to thank Ellie Cohanim for participating in this interview.

 

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