Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff reportedly shared emails about drafting his bombastic $5.1 million COVID-19 response memoir as early as March 2020, just weeks before the first deadly wave of the pandemic tore through the Empire State.
Cuomo speechwriters Jamie Malanowski and Tom Topousis began drafting a “preface” on March 30 and chapter titles for a “book” on March 31, according to a number of emails obtained by the conservative Empire Center for Public Policy.
Other emails, provided by the outlet through the Freedom of Information Law, show staffers requesting information through April amid the deadliest wave of the pandemic. The seven-day average death toll peaked at 978 on April 13.
The emails suggest that staffers’ work on Cuomo’s book started far earlier than previously detailed in an impeachment report prepared by the state Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.
The communications also suggest that the memoir was written with the help of state staff and resources, according to Empire Center.
A spokesperson for Cuomo denied that any of the emails in the report had anything to do with Cuomo’s book or that state resources were used to write it. The emails obtained by the outlet do not reveal any direct communication with the former governor.
But the Crown Publishing Group stopped promoting it in March 2021 after it was revealed that Cuomo was under investigation for the state’s “reporting of COVID-related fatalities in nursing homes,” the company said at the time.
In August, an Albany county court ruling allowed Cuomo to keep the $5 million proceeds from his book after the since-disbanded Joint Commission on Public Ethics ordered him to surrender the cash to the state.
The first mention of “the coronavirus project” came in an email from top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa on March 30 — one week after the governor had shut down all non-essential businesses. DeRosa asked Cuomo staffers to begin compiling information about the pandemic, according to emails.
Later that day Malanowski sent Topousis a “preface” written in first person Cuomo’s voice, according to the emails.
On March 31, emails show Topousis wrote that he was organizing the governor’s briefings into a “daily diary” and Malinowski sent out a proposed outline for what he referred to as “the book.”
“Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it seems that it might be beneficial for us to think of this story as unfolding in chapters, or perhaps more accurately sections, built around crises, and what actions we took to deal with them,” Malanowski wrote to Topousis in an email.
“We have already been through a period of growing awareness, a testing crisis, and a hotspot crisis. Each of these can be the tentpole that holds up a chapter (I don’t want to get hung up on terminology – once we get going, we might decide that something we’re calling a chapter might literally become 2 or three chapters of the book.)”
Chapter title suggestions included “Growing Awareness,” “Testing,” “Implementing Testing” and “New Rochelle,” where an earlier outbreak of the virus occurred.
Malanowski was brainstorming over an idea for chapter five: “Not sure of the arc of this chapter yet, because we are still in the middle of it. And I’m not sure if it is more than one chapter. … It’s an old-fashioned horror/thriller movie, right? As soon as we escape [one] threat, we’re on to the next one.”
Weeks later, Cuomo’s director of executive affairs Stephanie Benton appears to have gotten involved, organizing an April 18 conference call with Topousis, Malanowski and DeRosa.
She reportedly asked Topousis to share the timeline he had been preparing to outline Cuomo’s response to the pandemic. Malanowski also sent Benton and DeRosa the preface he had previously shared with Topousis.
Later that same day, Topousis sent Malanowski a file called “MDR and SB notes,” in an apparent reference to DeRosa and Benton, according to Empire Center. The notes described the events leading up to the pandemic in February through the first confirmed COVID-19 case on March 1, 2020.
Additional emails show that Topousis and Malanowski regularly sought information from research staff and met with Benton and DeRosa, who provided anecdotes about the governor.
One April 21 email from DeRosa to the two writers titled “real time notes” provided a story of a mid-flight conversation between Cuomo and then-President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner ahead of a planned visit to the White House that day.
Two days later, Topousis explained the project to special counsel Beth Garvey, with whom he sought a “few minutes to chat” about the early days of the pandemic.
“I’m working with Jamie Malanowski on a long-term project under Melissa’s direction,” he wrote. “As part of the project, Melissa has asked us to put together a history of the Executive Chamber’s response to the pandemic. It will eventually be turned into a narrative, but will require talking to senior staff closely involved with the governor. For now, we are focused on the early stages.”
Malanowski also described the project in an April 28 email to Health Department speechwriter Barbara Sutton, who was assisting in getting him an interview with former state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
“We are hoping to produce a narrative that [is] not a history of the State’s response to the crisis per se, but that is about decision-making, leadership and the goals and values of government as demonstrated in New York State during this crisis,” he wrote. “Therefore, at any given moment during the crisis, we want to know what information the governor had, what he was thinking and feeling, and how he acted on the information at hand.”
Cuomo’s spokesperson Rich Azzopardi blasted the Empire Center’s report as completely false.
He noted that none of the report’s “handpicked” emails, including the preface or anecdote information about the phone call with Kushner, ever made it into the final memoir.
“To be clear, this work product was never viewed by the governor nor was it used in the ‘American Crisis,’ as much as the Empire Center wants to believe that,” he told The Post in a statement Tuesday.
“As was previously said, Tom [Topousis] and Jamie [Malinowski] were asked to develop and preserve a timeline of what happened during this significant time in our history that would aid our media responses, press briefings and provide a record for future generations,” Azzopardi said.
“The decision to do so in chapters or narrative form wasn’t at the direction of Melissa or anyone else,” he said. “The idea to structure the governor’s book as a daily account was introduced by the publisher in mid-July, not based on the timeline produced that was used in countless briefings.”
Malanowski also denies ever working on “An American Crisis.” He noted that he wanted to work on a memoir about the state’s response to the disease, but it ultimately fell through.
“I want to be clear: I had nothing to do with the writing of ‘An American Crisis,’” Malanowski told The Post in a statement.
“It is true that in April 2020 I thought it would be a good idea for the governor to write a memoir. It is true that I would have liked to have worked on it. It is also true that on my own, I wrote a preface and an outline, as examples of what a book might look like, in an effort to get colleagues to support the idea,” he continued.
“No one in the administration suggested, or requested, or instructed me to undertake this work,” he said. “My colleagues were very busy during this time, and I was not able to generate much interest in this idea. By May, I stopped pushing it.”
Cuomo resigned in August 2021 while under fire over sexual harassment allegations, as well as other scandals involving his book deal and the state’s nursing home COVID-19 deaths.