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A new report suggests that abuses of power surrounded Andrew Cuomo's book deal

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The results of a broad impeachment investigation into former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has shed new light on his book, "American Crisis." Now, the book focused on his administration's response to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when New York was essentially the epicenter. And I spoke to the former governor around the book's release last October.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CORNISH: You look at the progress New York has made from when it was essentially the epicenter for months of this pandemic. Do you have worry that it could return to that point, you know, for people who look at this and say, how does he have a book out about this now when New York is still in the crisis?

ANDREW CUOMO: Well, that's exactly why I have the book out now.

CORNISH: Like, is it a victory lap?

CUOMO: No, it's the exact opposite. This is halftime.

CORNISH: The book raised a lot of questions that the impeachment investigation set out to answer. New Yorker staff writer Eric Lach has been going through the report, released Monday, and spoke with me about it earlier today. I started by asking Lach what the report found out about how the former governor's book was written and by whom.

ERIC LACH: Well, you know, he had senior aides working on the book. He had junior aides working on a book. He hired a ghostwriter. But the key thing is using these state employees. I mean, one of the stipulations that a state ethics board essentially has to sign off on Governor Cuomo writing this book to begin with, and one of the rules that they set down is that no state resources can be used in this book's production. Well, this report that came out shows very clearly that that rule was broken and that many, many state employees spent lots of time drafting and editing and putting this book together.

CORNISH: Can you describe what that looked like, the kinds of people who were working on this? I won't say they were forced, but sort of what does the report say about how this went down?

LACH: Yeah, so I mean, it's top to bottom. So the report says that, you know, a top aide who was the secretary to the governor and the No. 2 figure in his administration, that she sent or received a thousand emails, you know, over the course of a couple of months in connection to the book and that there were members of the governor's COVID-19 task force, you know, senior officials who were working on the book. At least one of these top official in the Cuomo administration felt that work on this book detracted from other efforts to combat the pandemic or efforts to combat the pandemic period.

CORNISH: There's one issue in particular that was striking, which is that at the time, Cuomo was doing sort of public relations battle over his decision making and policy around nursing homes. The report seems to make clear that Cuomo's administration - that their decision to suppress data about COVID-19 nursing home deaths was somehow influenced by the book. Can you talk about how they describe this?

LACH: Yeah. So the timeline here is the key thing. July 6, 2020 - the same day that the governor and a top aide have a phone call with his eventual publisher, his administration releases a report put out by the State Department of Health on the nursing home deaths, defending an order that the governor made in March that essentially instructed nursing homes to accept people coming out of hospitals regardless of their COVID-19 status. And in defending that policy, the administration made a very deliberate choice.

The overall number of nursing home residents who had died in the state at that time of COVID-19 was about 10,000. But that number included both people who died in nursing homes and people who died after being transferred out of nursing homes, particularly to hospitals. So the stance that the administration took is that they weren't going to include those deaths in their tally. And so instead of a figure around 10,000, the number that they put out was about 6,500.

This report that came out this week shows that, you know, when it came to drafting and editing the section of this book that dealt with the nursing home issues, that that - that senior Cuomo administration officials were treating that with utmost care. This is a critically important thing to massage and get right.

CORNISH: It's interesting. You write that the scandals that brought Cuomo down are about more than any single set of accusations, that they're about his whole approach to governance, his aggregation of power and the culture of fear and coercion that he oversaw and personally benefited from.

LACH: Yeah. And, you know, and I think that that's the crux of it. It was no secret in Albany that Andrew Cuomo ruled by fear, that he was a bully. You know, his administration operated in many ways to sort of create as much power for him as possible, you know, at the expense of many other people. You know, part of the benefit, I think, of the Judiciary Committee putting out this report - part of the benefit for everybody to just read this report is the way that it puts the harassment allegations against Cuomo into the broader context of, you know, his use and misuse of power.

CORNISH: Eric Lach is a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Thank you so much for your time.

LACH: Thanks for having me, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.