New York’s legislative leaders have yet to answer key questions about plans to launch an impeachment investigation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including how long it will take, how public its proceedings or findings will be, or what kinds of misconduct could fall under its scrutiny.
Assembly Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie announced the inquiry last week into the governor, who is accused of sexual misconduct and has faced questions about COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes, without divulging those details.
And the judiciary committee of the Assembly, New York’s lower legislative chamber, has yet to meet on the topic, though it did take one initial step this week — hiring the Manhattan law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell to assist the probe.
The pace of the inquiry has frustrated some lawmakers who want Cuomo out now.
“It’s pretty strange to me and I think that we are needing to ask a lot of questions here,” Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat. “With any kind of lack of transparency or lack of access to any process, one has to ask about the motivations and one has to ask: Why?”
John Kaehny, executive director of the good-government group Reinvent Albany, said the Assembly’s leaders have an obligation to explain how the investigation will unfold.
“Impeachment isn’t something New York does regularly, so no one really knows how it’s supposed to work,” he said. “We know it’s really important and it should be as transparent as possible.”
Meanwhile, polling suggests that while Cuomo’s support slipped following an allegation that he groped an aide at the Executive Mansion, his political base hasn’t abandoned him.
A new Quinnipiac University poll of 905 registered voters found that while 43% believe he should resign, 36% of women polled said he should quit, and 23% of Democrats.
Among respondents of all political affiliations, 36% said Cuomo should be impeached and removed from office.
Only 16 governors in the U.S. have ever been ousted through impeachment, said lawyer and professor Ross Garber, who has represented governors facing impeachment in Alabama, Connecticut and South Carolina.
Cuomo’s conduct with women is also the subject of an investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James.
Women have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching. Federal prosecutors are also scrutinizing whether Cuomo’s administration misled the public or the U.S. Justice Department about COVID-19 fatalities at nursing homes.
Cuomo says he never touched anyone inappropriately. He has apologized, though, for what he said were attempts to engage in office banter that he now realizes offended women who worked for him.
Heastie said decisions about the probe would be decided by judiciary committee Chair Charles Lavine. Lavine referred requests for interview to Heastie, whose office didn’t respond to questions from The Associated Press.
Assembly member Ron Kim said lawmakers aren’t getting the answers they need, either.
“None of us have any clue as to what’s going on with this investigation,” he said. “And it’s very unsettling and alarming to many of my colleagues.”
An attorney for one of Cuomo’s accusers, Charlotte Bennett, has said she won’t cooperate with the Assembly’s inquiry because of questions about potential political interference.
New York’s constitution doesn’t spell out a process for how to investigate allegations of misconduct by a governor.
The U.S. House of Representatives took two different paths in its impeachments of former President Donald Trump.
Before its first impeachment proceeding, on charges related to Trump’s efforts to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine, it held weeks of public hearings and took public testimony from witnesses. But its second impeachment was pushed through just days after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
There is often pressure for state lawmakers to hold investigations, according to consultant John Fritchey, a former Illinois lawmaker who sat on the special investigative committee that drafted an impeachment resolution against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“The public needs to have confidence the legislature did the right thing for the right reasons,” Fritchey said.
Unlike in New York, Illinois launched a committee investigation with a vote that set ground rules for weeks of public hearings.
“Generally what legislative bodies do is they’ll establish rules early on that govern the investigation,” Garber said.
Heastie has said that having the Assembly conduct its own, thorough inquiry is the right response. Other lawmakers say any delay will only help Cuomo.
“We already have enough information to draft the articles of impeachment,” tweeted Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who formerly worked in the Cuomo administration and has talked publicly about feeling bullied by the governor.
“A delay in impeachment does exactly what the governor most desires, which is for the public pressure to settle down.”
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