Andrew Cuomo May Get to Keep $5M in Book Profits After All, Thanks to Letitia James

New questions have been raised about an order for former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to return the money he earned for a book about leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.

Attorney General Letitia James's office told the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics Thursday that the committee needed to take more steps before it could demand that Cuomo give back the $5 million he received for the publication of his memoir American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

In a letter to the panel, James's general counsel Larry Schimmel said an investigative report stating what laws had been violated as well as documentation of discussions the commission had with Cuomo and his defense team is necessary. The panel would also have to exhaust all their own options to collect the money before referring the matter to James.

Schimmel determined it's "therefore premature" to ask the attorney general's office to collect the money being demanded from Cuomo.

The ethics panel was nearly unanimous in its vote on Monday to force Cuomo to turn over the proceeds of his publishing deal. The commission said an investigation found Cuomo had improperly received help from government employees to write and promote the 320-page book.

"It is ordered that by no later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, Governor Cuomo pay over to the attorney general of the State of New York an amount equal to the compensation paid to him for his outside activities related to the book," the panel's resolution stated.

Cuomo maintains that he didn't misuse state resources when writing and developing the COVID-19 memoir. The former governor also said that any employees who worked on the product had volunteered to do so in their free time.

Cuomo's attorney ​​Jim McGuire had called the panel's order to return the $5 million "unconstitutional" and politically motivated.

"Should they seek to enforce this action, we'll see them in court," McGuire said.

McGuire said in a statement that the attorney general office's latest action "is not at all surprising."

"We remain ready to vindicate the Governor before a politically neutral body, our courts," he said.

"This had nothing to do with the law and is evidence of political attacks by the appointees of Governor Hochul, Speaker Heastie and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins," Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said in a statement. "Ironically, these Hochul, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins appointees taking the position that staff cannot do non-governmental volunteer work on their personal time damns them and their own employees, who should now be held to the same standard for volunteer work on their bosses' re-election campaigns."

Cuomo May Get To Keep $5M Profits
Attorney General Letitia James has told the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics that more steps need to be taken before it can demand Andrew Cuomo give back the $5 million reaped for the publication of his memoir. In this photo, Cuomo speaks at Bay Park Water Reclamation Facility on Earth Day on April 22, 2021 in East Rockaway, New York. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The ethics probe into the book deal came amid a series of scandals for the former governor.

Cuomo resigned in August after an investigation led by James's office concluded he sexually harassed 11 women, including current and former state employees. The document also detailed a hostile work environment created by the governor and his team.

Cuomo has denied the allegations, said he's been the "victim of a political and media stampede" and likened his ouster from office to a coup.

The former governor is slated to appear in court in January over a misdemeanor charge of forcible touching. The complaint, filed by the Albany County Sheriff's Office, accuses Cuomo of reaching under the blouse of a woman and grabbing her breast at the Executive Mansion in December 2020.

His brother Chris Cuomo has also been mired in scandal after being fired by CNN for efforts to aid his brother in combating sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo was accused of sexual misconduct in the days before his termination from the network.

The attorney general's office had no further comment on the issue.

Update 12/20/21, 9:30 a.m. ET: This story was updated with more information and background.