ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Senator Rob Ortt, the minority leader, sent a letter to the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics Thursday, formally filing a complaint and requesting an investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo. The North Tonawanda Republican is asking JCOPE to look into reports that Department of Health officials were told to prioritize coronavirus testing for members of the governor’s family and others last year.
The Times Union was the first to report Wednesday that people close to Cuomo had testing specimens moved to the front of the line.
“If they don’t take this up, I don’t know why they exist actually at all,” Ortt said Friday afternoon.
In his letter, Ortt alleges that the reports demonstrate “what appears to be a very clear, straightforward violation” of the Public Officer’s Law. He’s asking JCOPE to call an immediate meeting to commence an investigation.
Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to the governor, said in response to the reports, “We should avoid insincere efforts to rewrite the past.” He said in the early days of the pandemic, the state went “above and beyond” to get people tested.
But several people, including Ortt, are calling for an investigation. A spokesperson for New York State Attorney General Letitia James said her office does not have jurisdiction to investigate. However, they also believe JCOPE should look into it.
“By law, we cannot comment on anything that is or might be an investigative matter,” a JCOPE spokesperson said in an email.
A spokesperson for New York State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro declined to comment Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Assembly Judiciary Committee is planning to review the reports as part of its impeachment investigation of Cuomo, committee chair Charles Lavine told the Associated Press Thursday night.
“I think we had the foresight to be able to leave this open enough so that more information could be brought into the investigation,” said Democratic Assemblyman Jon Rivera.
The impeachment inquiry is already focusing on whether Cuomo sexually harassed staffers, withheld information on COVID-19 or safety on bridges, and whether he ordered any related investigations to be suppressed.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.