The New York state attorney general’s office has subpoenaed dozens of officials in the Cuomo administration, including his top aide, requesting that they produce documents as part of an investigation of sexual-harassment accusations against the governor, according to people familiar with the matter.
Melissa DeRosa, whose title is secretary to the governor and who has been at the center of the state’s pandemic response, is among the officials to receive a subpoena earlier this month, the people said. Investigators for the attorney general have also questioned women accusing Gov. Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate behavior about their interactions with Ms. DeRosa, the women and their lawyers said.
Ana Liss, a former aide to Mr. Cuomo who has accused the Democratic governor of misconduct, said that, during an interview with investigators, she was asked about Ms. DeRosa’s behavior in the workplace.
Investigators asked about how Ms. DeRosa interacted with her, said Ms. Liss, who worked at the state Capitol in 2014. “They were trying to figure out if I was targeted by Melissa,” Ms. Liss said.
She told investigators she didn’t have many dealings with Ms. DeRosa, who at the time was Mr. Cuomo’s director of communications.
Paul Fishman, a lawyer representing Mr. Cuomo’s administration, said: “No one should be surprised that the AG’s office is issuing requests for documents and interviewing witnesses, including many who work for the governor. That happens in every investigation, and it’s wildly premature to speculate what it means. Good, thorough, and fair investigations take time.”
A lawyer for Ms. DeRosa referred The Wall Street Journal to Mr. Fishman for comment.
Three former female aides and two current female aides have accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate workplace behavior. The governor has denied touching anybody inappropriately and has apologized if his behavior made anybody uncomfortable.
The sexual-harassment probe is being overseen by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Her office hasn’t accused Ms. DeRosa of any wrongdoing. A spokeswoman for Ms. James’s office declined to comment, citing a continuing inquiry.
Ms. DeRosa has been involved in state politics for nearly 20 years. She was deputy chief of staff to then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman before joining Mr. Cuomo’s staff in 2013. She assumed the top staff position in state government in 2017, overseeing the governor’s Executive Chamber and other state agencies.
During the pandemic, she has helped carry out the state’s response including actions involving nursing homes. The state’s nursing-home policies and delay in releasing a full tally of nursing-home deaths due to Covid-19 are now subjects of a separate federal investigation.
State officials have said the nursing-home policy was crafted to preserve hospital capacity and was consistent with federal guidance at the time. They have said data were released when their accuracy was verified.
In a statement, Ms. DeRosa said she cared deeply about public service and didn’t get much sleep during the pandemic because she was working long hours.
“The last thing I would do in my day is call family members of healthcare workers who died and tell them I’m sorry for their pain, and then close the door, lay on the floor and cry,” she said in response to questions for this article. “I am not the one-dimensional person that has been portrayed in the press.”
Ms. DeRosa has regularly berated officials, lawmakers and journalists in profanity-laced phone calls and text messages when they have crossed the governor, according to people who have received the communications.
“I am not the one-dimensional person that has been portrayed in the press.”
Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said, “Melissa is the exact same person behind the scenes as she is on camera—tough, hardworking, brilliant, meticulously prepared, and always fighting to improve the lives of New Yorkers.”
In December, Lindsey Boylan, a former administration official, became the first woman to accuse Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment. At the time, Ms. DeRosa and other aides and allies of the governor contacted former staff members to talk to them about Ms. Boylan, according to people familiar with the matter.
Ms. Liss said she received a phone call in December from Mr. Azzopardi asking if she had heard from Ms. Boylan. Ms. Liss said she viewed the call as intimidation and discussed the episode with Ms. James’s investigators.
Mr. Azzopardi said that administration officials made a number of calls after Ms. Boylan made her accusations but that they were not meant to intimidate. Mr. Cuomo has said Ms. Boylan’s accusations are untrue.
Ms. DeRosa was part of a close circle of aides who drafted a letter that referenced Ms. Boylan’s personnel records and called people to ask questions about her, said the people, including some who spoke with Ms. DeRosa at the time.
The letter was never released publicly, but administration officials provided the records to several media outlets, according to people familiar with the matter.
In response to questions about the letter and the release of the personnel records, Beth Garvey, acting counsel to the governor, said: “With certain limited exceptions, as a general matter, it is within a government entity’s discretion to share redacted employment records, including in instances when members of the media ask for such public information and when it is for the purpose of correcting inaccurate or misleading statements.”
Ms. Boylan has said she has never seen these records, questioned their authenticity and called their release an effort to smear her.
Ms. DeRosa was the top official in a Feb. 10 meeting with state legislators in which she said their requests for data on nursing-home deaths were sidelined because of a Justice Department inquiry into the matter. Ms. DeRosa said the state feared releasing the information would be politicized by the administration of President Donald Trump, according to a transcript.
After that meeting, federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn requested information from the state about nursing-home deaths as part of an inquiry that is also examining how the state granted immunity from lawsuits and criminal prosecution to hospitals and nursing homes on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. The federal probe is also looking at how Ms. DeRosa and other advisers to the governor altered a July Health Department report on nursing home deaths, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Cuomo has said he is cooperating with both the federal and state inquiries.
Elkan Abramowitz, an outside lawyer hired by the state to represent the governor’s office in the federal inquiry, said in a statement that the administration has been truthful and accurate in its response to the Justice Department requests about nursing homes.