NEW YORK — In a new book set to be released next week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo accuses the Trump administration of “extortion” for a veiled threat made by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the height of the coronavirus crisis.
Cuomo’s new 308-page tome, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” reveals that in late March, Meadows called the governor demanding clinical test results on hydroxychloroquine — a drug President Donald Trump had been hyping at the time as a potential cure-all for COVID 19.
Hospitals in New York were testing the drug’s effectiveness at the time because of the high rate of infection in the Empire State.
Cuomo recounts telling Meadows that when the results were ready they would be sent to the Food and Drug Administration. Meadows then told him the federal government was set to release hospital funding to states and “strongly implied” that if the tests didn’t come soon, New York “wouldn’t receive any funding.”
“Government Ethics 101 tells you that’s a no-no,” Cuomo writes. “Quid pro quos are no bueno.”
On Wednesday, the New York Daily News obtained the book, which lays out Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic from his own perspective. Details of the memoir were first reported in The Guardian.
The revelations in it come as Cuomo is facing another, newer COVID crisis: Mounting pressure from Orthodox Jews in southern Brooklyn over an order to shut down businesses, schools and houses of worship there amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
Much of the governor’s account focuses on the day-to-day aspects of trying to manage the coronavirus crisis, beginning in March, and often veers between personal musings about his family during that time and his dealings with the Trump administration.
Cuomo recounts how in April, with the help of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, he persuaded Trump to agree to waive the 25% share of Federal Emergency Management Agency expenses the state would have to pay for COVID aid — and how it didn’t take long for the president to ultimately stiff New Yorkers.
“To this day,” Cuomo writes, FEMA still refuses to grant a waiver “that the president agreed to.”
“How do I explain it? I can’t,” Cuomo concludes. “It was all a scene from a reality TV show.”
In another passage, Cuomo accuses the Trump administration of “extortion” again, saying Trump excluded the state from the Trusted Traveler Program, which facilitates speedy reentry into the country for pre-approved travelers, so the president could use it as “leverage over me” in his push to obtain lists of undocumented immigrants, replete with home addresses and photos.
After the U.S. Attorney’s office filed a motion to drop the case, admitting in it that the federal government made false statements to justify banning New Yorkers from the Traveler Program, Cuomo called for a federal probe into the matter.
Shortly after making that demand, Cuomo writes, he got a call from the White House.
“They were willing to reopen discussion on the Second Avenue subway project,” he said. “Their purported reopening of the Second Avenue subway discussion was intended to slow me down from pursuing the DHS scandal.”
Cuomo doesn’t reserve his criticisms for Trump. He slams Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his handling of coronavirus in that state’s nursing homes — a criticism Cuomo himself also has had to contend with.
And of course, he touches on his fraught relationship with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, which he described as “problematic” and “complicated.”
“I’ve known him for many years,” he writes. “We were personal friends.”
Cuomo gets cute with his language at times. In one passage, he describes his management style as “constructive impatience,” which he translates as “I could be a pain in the heinie.”
But he also writes that one of the keys for him in managing the coronavirus crisis was to wear his emotions on his sleeve — as he did on more than one occasion at his daily news briefings — despite the fact that doing so could become a political liability.
“If I didn’t connect emotionally with people, they would never have the trust and confidence in me to follow my proposals,” he writes.
He attempts to do the same with the written word as well. In one passage, he reflects on how the pandemic brought him closer to his three daughters, which immediately leads him to his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
“Since he died, when I have a special or difficult day, I wear my father’s shoes,” he writes. “I only hope that my daughters can get that sense of comfort from me when I’m gone.”
©2020 New York Daily News