A New York ethics agency will hire outside counsel to review its own authorization of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's lucrative book deal, an arrangement that came under scrutiny following the former governor's resignation.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted Tuesday to hire outside counsel to review the 2020 agreement that allowed Cuomo to rake in an estimated $5.1 million following the publication of American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, multiple outlets reported. The vote came just one day after Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has distanced herself from her predecessor, appointed Republican Sharon Stern Gerstman and Democrat Jose Nieves to the JCOPE board, both of whom voted in favor of opening the investigation.
"The commission has voted to approve the retention of independent counsel to conduct an inquiry into the legal and procedural operations of the commission," Nieves, who was appointed to the chairman position following the Monday resignation of former Chairman James Dering, a Cuomo appointee.
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Hochul praised the appointments of Gerstman and Nieves prior to Tuesday's vote, calling them "well-respected and talented professionals who will uphold our commitment to open, ethical government and help to transform not just state government, but more importantly, people's image and perception of their state government."
"Restoring trust in government is a top priority for my administration, and that includes strengthening ethics oversight," she said.
The JCOPE, which voted on Sept. 14 to allow the former governor to keep his book deal, has been at the center of questions surrounding the agreement, with Attorney General Letitia James issuing at least one subpoena to the agency last month for its records on the book following an April referral from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to investigate whether "public resources [were] used in the development and promotion of the governor's book."
Cuomo, who is expected to rake in $5.1 million from the memoir, insisted staff members volunteered to help with the book, though his office acknowledged there could be some "incidental" use of state resources.
Hochul has overseen an exodus of executive appointees in accordance with her vow to purge the administration of "unethical" Cuomo allies, with the state health commissioner, inspector general, and a handful of JCOPE members stepping down in recent weeks.
Cuomo resigned on Aug. 24 after James released a bombshell report on Aug. 3 saying he sexually harassed 11 women and engaged in "retaliatory" behavior by "intend[ing] to discredit and disparage" at least one accuser. Hochul, who had been serving as lieutenant governor, was then elevated to the role of governor, vowing to end the "toxic workplace environment."
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Still, the former governor has indicated he will continue to defend his reputation in his post-governorship, railing against James's "unjust" report in his farewell address to the state and engaging in a war of words with her over her defense of the report. A recent statement from Cuomo saying New York is at a "dangerous moment" has renewed speculation that he will seek the governorship in 2022, despite recently signaling his intent to remain a private citizen.
Representatives for the JCOPE and New York's Executive Mansion did not immediately respond to the Washington Examiner's requests for comment.