Former DOJ official: Gov. Cuomo should be worried about federal probe into COVID-19 nursing home deaths

John Daukas says Janice Dean, other grieving families will get answers

John Daukas, who served as acting U.S. attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, explained on Monday why he believes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be worried about a federal probe into the alleged undercounting of nursing home deaths amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"On March 25th the governor issued his order that required nursing homes to accept people who could be infected, still infected with COVID, and something that's often overlooked, the order prohibited the nursing homes from testing those people to determine if they had COVID so those people were put back in with a very vulnerable population," Daukas told "Fox & Friends" on Monday.

"New York by the summer had by far the highest death rate in the country, over 32,000 deaths, twice the deaths of any other state," he continued.

"But the governor was going around saying the nursing home deaths were very low and that didn't seem right to us at the Department of Justice so we asked for information on state-run nursing homes, which my group, the civil rights division, has jurisdiction over and New York provided data to us that showed that they had understated the deaths in those nursing homes by one-third," Daukas added.

Cuomo has found himself at the center of a federal investigation into whether his administration sought to hide the true toll of the pandemic.

The New York Post reported earlier this month that Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, told lawmakers the administration had withheld the numbers for fear of them being "used against us."

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Daukas, wrote that DeRosa’s reported admissions weren't "merely negligent, but intentional and perhaps criminal."

Daukas said numerous federal statutes could apply, noting that Cuomo’s administration is accusing of both making false statements to the federal government and trying to thwart an investigation.

"Even if it cannot be proved that the Cuomo administration knowingly provided false information to Justice and the (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), New York’s willful failure to provide information may itself constitute a criminal offense—particularly if the intent was to thwart a federal investigation—which, after all, is exactly what Ms. DeRosa reportedly said the administration did," Daukas wrote.

On Monday, Daukas told host Steve Doocy that after the Department of Justice learned that nursing home deaths were understated, "we went to our sister division, the Civil Division of the Department of Justice that asked for the same information for the over 600 private nursing homes in the state of New York and New York stonewalled and didn't produce anything throughout the rest of the year, perhaps waiting for a change in administration."

Daukas appeared on "Fox & Friends" on Monday with Fox News senior meteorologist Janice Dean, who lost her elderly in-laws to COVID-19.  Dean had said she believes Cuomo or his administration were behind the decision to allow infected patients back into nursing homes.

She told Fox News in August her husband’s father, who was in a nursing home and rehabilitation center, died the same day she and her husband found out he was sick.

CUOMO SCANDAL WILL BE HOT TOPIC AS HEARINGS FOR BIDEN AG NOMINEE MERRICK GARLAND KICK OFF NEXT WEEK

Dean noted that her husband’s mother "contracted coronavirus in her assisted living facility and was transported to the hospital and died in the hospital." Her mother-in-law died on April 14, about two weeks after her father-in-law passed away from the novel coronavirus.

On Monday an emotional Dean told Doocy, that she is "grateful" to Daukas and former Attorney General William Barr "for opening up this investigation." She referred to Barr and Daukas as "brave people," saying if it weren’t for their actions, she doesn’t "believe there would be an investigation into Cuomo."

"John Daukas is a hero and the reporting today in the Wall Street journal is incredible," Dean said. "It's incredible for all of us, all of the families that want justice."

Doocy asked Dean, "What will justice look like to your family?"

"I want the whole truth and nothing but the truth and I think we are going down that path," she responded.

She stressed that because of Daukas and the Department of Justice she believes her family will get answers, adding that she hopes "Biden's Department of Justice" will continue the effort.  

Doocy asked Daukus if he feels "confident ultimately we will know the truth and Janice's family will get justice?"

"I do," he responded. "This is something that's hurt so many different people that we really need to get to the bottom of this."

"It's not a political issue. It's an issue about justice," he continued.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

A Cuomo spokesperson did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

Fox News’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report.