ALBANY, N.Y. (AP/WROC) — The New York State Assembly will suspend its impeachment investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo once he steps down, the chamber’s top Democrat said Friday.
Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday over sexual harassment allegations, days after he faced increasing pressure to resign or face the possibility of being ousted by the Democratic-controlled Legislature through the impeachment process. He said at the time that it would not take effect for 14 days. Cuomo said at the time that it would not take effect for 14 days, at which point he will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The state attorney general last week released an independent investigation that found Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women.
Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement that the Assembly Judiciary Committee had heard from its lawyers that it can’t impeach and remove an elected official no longer in office. Nevertheless, Heastie said, the evidence the committee had gathered “could likely have resulted in articles of impeachment had he not resigned.”
Since March, outside lawyers have been helping the committee conduct a wide-ranging investigation on whether there were grounds to impeach Cuomo, a Democrat. The announcement came on a day the Assembly had initially set as a deadline for Cuomo’s legal team to respond with any additional evidence refuting the allegations against him.
Cuomo’s office and lawyer, Rita Glavin, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press about whether the governor was going to comply with the deadline.
“Let me be clear — the committee’s work over the last several months, although not complete, did uncover credible evidence in relation to allegations that have been made in reference to the governor,” Lavine said.
That included evidence related to sexual harassment, the misuse of state resources in conjunction with publication of the governor’s book on the pandemic, and “improper and misleading disclosure of nursing home data.”
As the answer to the legal question of impeaching a departed official remained unclear for several days, some Democrats, including Assemblymember Ron Kim, had urged the Assembly to impeach Cuomo anyway to prevent him from running for office again in New York.
Heastie said that he’s asked Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine to turn over “to the relevant investigatory authorities all the evidence the committee has gathered.”
Assemblymember Marjorie Byrnes (R-133) says the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s investigation will now end on the 25th. She says it goes far beyond the sexual harassment claims against the Governor.
“The book deal, the nursing homes, the 15,000 deaths, they want answers, all day long I get calls at my office…” she says.
While Byrnes says she can’t talk about the details of the investigation, News 8 asked her if some of these findings have ‘meat’ to them. “Absolutely. There absolutely are,” she says.
Assemblyman Josh Jensen (R-134) says members on the judiciary committee, like Byrnes, were not consulted about this suspension. He says this looks like politics as usual.
“For too long, the State of New York has seemed like it’s a hive of corruption, a hive of where we sweep things under the rug,” says Jensen.
Byrnes says above all, suspending this investigation will mean the public will further distrust lawmakers.
“I’m really concerned that people will have no trust in their government. Politicians already have a bad name,” she says.
Assemblyman Harry Bronson is ready to move forward. He says he has 11 bills ready for the governor’s signature, likely now for the incoming Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul.
“So, I’m glad this is coming to a conclusion so we can get back to the work of governing for the people we represent,” says Bronson.
Cuomo faces ongoing probes from the state attorney general over his $5 million book deal and from state prosecutors, who are scrutinizing his handling of nursing home deaths data. The state’s ethics commissioners, who could levy fines against Cuomo, are also looking into similar issues.
Heastie also cited “active investigations” by county district attorneys in Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, Nassau and Oswego concerning incidents of alleged sexual harassment by Cuomo.
Several women have said the governor inappropriately touched them, including a current aide who said he groped her breasts at his official residence, the Executive Mansion, last November. That aide, Brittany Commisso, filed a criminal complaint that could result in a misdemeanor groping charge.
Some Judiciary committee members, including Democrats Phil Steck and Kenneth Braunstein, said Friday morning that they wanted the committee to at least release a report of their findings to the public.
Heastie’s statement released Friday didn’t say whether the committee would still publicize its findings.
Heastie’s spokeperson Mike Whyland didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment Friday. Heastie on Monday estimated the probe has cost taxpayers “millions” so far, but didn’t respond to repeated requests by The Associated Press for an estimate.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie released the following statement on Friday:
After consulting with Chair Lavine and my majority colleagues, the Assembly will suspend its impeachment investigation upon the governor’s resignation taking effect on August 25.
There are two reasons for this decision. First, the purpose of the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation was to determine whether Governor Cuomo should remain in office. The governor’s resignation answers that directive. Second, we have been advised by Chair Lavine – with the assistance of counsel – of the belief that the constitution does not authorize the legislature to impeach and remove an elected official who is no longer in office (see attached memo).
Let me be clear – the committee’s work over the last several months, although not complete, did uncover credible evidence in relation to allegations that have been made in reference to the governor. Underscoring the depth of this investigation, this evidence concerned not only sexual harassment and misconduct but also the misuse of state resources in relation to the publication of the governor’s memoir as well as improper and misleading disclosure of nursing home data during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This evidence – we believe – could likely have resulted in articles of impeachment had he not resigned.
I have asked Chair Lavine to turn over to the relevant investigatory authorities all the evidence the committee has gathered. We are well aware that the attorney general is investigating issues concerning the governor’s memoir; the Eastern District of the United States attorney has been investigating the administration’s actions concerning nursing home data; and there are active investigations by local law enforcement authorities in five jurisdictions – Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, Nassau and Oswego – concerning incidents of sexual misconduct. As I have said, this has been a tragic chapter in our state’s history. The people of this great state expect and deserve a government they can count on to always have their best interests in mind. Our government should always operate in a transparent, safe and honest manner. These principles have and always will be the Assembly Majority’s commitment to all New Yorkers.
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available