BUTLER COUNTY, IOWA – Following
testimony that New York state officials intentionally withheld data on
COVID-19-related deaths in the state’s nursing homes, Sen. Chuck Grassley
(R-Iowa), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is again urging the
Biden administration to take care not to disrupt sensitive ongoing
investigations by terminating certain U.S. Attorneys.
that President Biden’s largely across-the-board termination of 56
U.S. attorneys could imperil ongoing sensitive investigations – a concern also expressed
by Senate Democrats
. After testimony from a top aide to New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo that the state withheld nursing home death statistics, Grassley is
raising concern that the terminations could impede an ongoing federal investigation
into how actions by some state officials could have exacerbated the spread of
could not be credibly carried out by the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern
District of New York, who happens to be the mother-in-law of the governor’s
aide who testified about the undisclosed data. The obvious alternative is Antoinette
“Toni” Bacon, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York, who
previously served as Justice Department’s national elder justice coordinator
and who currently has jurisdiction over federal public corruption crimes in the
state. However, President Biden’s plan could remove Bacon from office at the
end of the month.
Bacon] is the obvious choice to continue a fair and unbiased investigation into
possible violations of civil liberties of the elderly and the public corruption
which may have occurred in this case. Yet it may be your intention to require
Ms. Bacon to leave as soon as the end of the month. Replacing Ms. Bacon at this
time would send a terrible message about the independence of the Department of
Justice,” Grassley wrote.
urged Biden to allow Bacon to continue her work in the Northern District of New
York until the Senate can confirm a replacement
February 17, 2021
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
Honorable Joseph R. Biden Jr.
of the United States
Pennsylvania Ave. NW
week, I wrote you with concern over your decision to ask for the resignation of
all remaining Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys, with only two exceptions for the
most obviously politically sensitive cases. I noted that you were and are
within your rights to do this, even though many of my Democratic colleagues
have previously voiced objections to similar actions by then Attorney General
Sessions because of the potential to damage the independence of prosecutors and
to disrupt ongoing federal cases. As I told you last week, I share those
not think it is wise to demand resignations so early in a Presidential
administration, and so long before replacements will be announced. It appears
this demand for resignations even preceded conversations with home state senators.
My colleagues, Senators Durbin and Duckworth, rightly pointed out their
objections with the decision to terminate U.S. Attorney for the Northern
District of Illinois John Lausch, who is supervising a sensitive political
corruption investigation of Mike Madigan, an ally of former President Obama.
letter last week, I raised for your consideration that it would be best to go
case-by-case through U.S. Attorneys to see if there were other instances, in
addition to Mr. Lausch, where U.S. Attorneys should be kept in place. Sadly, I
have reason to raise this concern with you again, in regard to Acting U.S.
Attorneys. In bombshell reporting last week, we learned that Melissa DeRosa, a
top aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, admitted to New York state
lawmakers that Governor Cuomo and members of his staff may have intentionally
withheld information about the number of COVID-19 deaths which occurred in New
York nursing homes due to missteps of the Cuomo administration. Ms. DeRosa
stated: “Basically, we froze because then we were in a position where we
weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or
what we give to you guys, and what we start saying, was going to be used
against us and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation.”
Public reporting indicates that nursing home deaths may have been undercounted
by as much as 50%.
Attorney General Barr launched investigations under the Civil Rights of
Institutionalized Persons Act into how state actors, including New York, may
have fueled the spread of COVID-19. If Ms. DeRosa’s most recent comments are
true, then it also seems likely that officials in New York may have violated
federal law. In New York, an investigation into Ms. DeRosa’s admissions likely cannot
be handled by Acting Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Audrey
Strauss, who, as coincidence would have it, is Ms. DeRosa’s mother in law.
Luckily, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York,
Antoinette “Toni” Bacon, is a long-time career prosecutor in the Justice
Department who most recently served as the Elder Justice Coordinator for the
Department. She has jurisdiction over Albany and New York state public
corruption investigations. She is the obvious choice to continue a fair and
unbiased investigation into possible violations of civil liberties of the
elderly and the public corruption which may have occurred in this case. Yet it
may be your intention to require Ms. Bacon to leave as soon as the end of the
month. Replacing Ms. Bacon at this time would send a terrible message about the
independence of the Department of Justice. As the case of Ms. Strauss shows,
you never know who will or who won’t be entrenched in state politics. Ms.
Bacon, however, is not. As with the investigation
of Mr. Madigan by a professional such as Mr. Lausch, it is important that this
investigation be allowed to proceed in a way that does not even provide the
appearance of political interference from Washington.
as I did in my letter last week, I must urge you not to simply fire all of
President Trump’s U.S. Attorneys except for the two most obviously sensitive.
Nor do I think it would make sense to displace Acting U.S. Attorneys who are
career officials, spearheading sensitive investigations, until the Senate can
confirm competent leaders in their places. I ask you to review each district
for critical or politically sensitive investigations, and to speak with home
state senators. And I strongly urge you to allow Ms. Bacon to continue her work
in the Northern District of New York until the Senate can confirm a
contact Erin Creegan of my committee staff with any questions at (202)