Gov. Andrew Cuomo is standing by a former top aide who is accused of political arm-twisting on his behalf while overseeing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout — actions for which the ex-staffer is now under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Cuomo told reporters Monday that former secretary to the governor Larry Schwartz “did a phenomenal job” as the state’s vaccine czar, adding, “I have total confidence in him.”
But Cuomo also repeatedly said that Schwartz was a “volunteer” when he allegedly asked county officials about their loyalty to the governor amid planning to distribute what were then extremely limited vaccine supplies.
“Larry Schwartz was a volunteer, helping the vaccine effort on his own time,” Cuomo said during a news conference at his Manhattan office.
On Saturday, two Democratic county executives told The Post they had been contacted by state investigators in regard to their conversations with Schwartz.
One described undergoing a “formal interview” over Zoom that lasted an hour, during which the investigators requested copies of relevant phone records and text messages.
The interviews were part of an expanded, independent probe by Attorney General Letitia James into a series of misconduct allegations leveled against Cuomo in recent months, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, citing sources familiar with the matter.
The probe, which is being conducted by outside attorneys, was initially focused on accusations that Cuomo sexually harassed female aides and later grew to include allegations that he used state workers to help prepare and promote his best-selling memoir.
Cuomo’s spokesman has also claimed those employees “volunteered” their time.
But that assertion was challenged last month, including by a former aide who reportedly said the efforts were “not optional” and “considered a part of your job.”
The interviews about Schwartz followed reports — including in The Post — in which county executives described getting calls from him in apparent response to the deluge of sexual harassment allegations enveloping Cuomo at the time.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a fellow Democrat, said that Schwartz “reached out to discuss whether I was supportive of the governor.”
“I explained that there were serious allegations made and that I was supportive of an independent investigation,” Bellone told The Post.
Another, unidentified county executive told the New York Times that Schwartz placed a similar call immediately after the official finished a conversation about the vaccination effort with a Cuomo administration official.
That county executive’s legal counsel filed a preliminary complaint with the attorney general’s office, alleging a potential ethics violation, the Times said, citing a source with knowledge of the complaint.
Cuomo’s office has insisted that Schwartz “did not bring up vaccine distribution” during his conversations with the various officials.
“Distorting Larry’s role or intentions for headlines maligns a decades’ long public servant who has done nothing but volunteer around the clock since March to help New York get through the COVID pandemic,” spokesman Rich Azzopardi said this past weekend.