An attorney for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday sent an evidence preservation request to the state's main ethics board, a move that is a potential precursor to filing a lawsuit to challenge the watchdog's effort to have him return millions of dollars from a book contract.
The evidence preservation memorandum from Cuomo attorney Jim McGuire is the latest step in the controversy surrounding the former governor's memoir about the pandemic, "American Crisis."
McGuire's request covers conversations and deliberations surrounding the book at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a much-maligned entity that oversees ethics and lobbying in New York.
The commission, known as JCOPE, last year rescinded its prior approval, previously granted by staff-level workers, for Cuomo to write the book following revelations he used government employees to help him write it. Cuomo has maintained those workers volunteered their time.
McGuire in the letter to the commission charged politics and bias was at play when members of the panel voted to claw back the money.
"JCOPE’s actions support, at the very least, the reasonable conclusion that it has acted for improper political reasons," McGuire wrote in the memo.
Unnamed staffers who spoke with Assembly investigators last year as part of what had been an impeachment probe said they were not under the impression the work was voluntary, and in some instances the work on the book took them away from their duties to respond to the pandemic.
Cuomo's book contract to write "American Crisis" was worth $5.1 million. He previously put $1 million in proceeds from the book into a trust for his daughters and donated $500,000 to a charity.
The commission had previously given Cuomo 30 days to return the money, a deadline that has since passed.
Attorney General Letitia James's office in December questioned whether the commission followed proper legal procedure when it approved the resolution to claw back the money. James' office pointed to the lack of a substantial basis investigation report before having the recovery matters referred to the attorney general.
An attorney in James' office also wrote to commissioners that the panel must have first exhausted its own collection activity efforts before turning to the attorney general.
James' office is separately investigating the use of government resources to help Cuomo write the book. The U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn as of the summer was investigating how Cuomo's administration reported nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.