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Assembly opens impeachment investigation of Cuomo
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Assembly opens impeachment investigation of Cuomo

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (copy) (copy)

After the latest account of a woman making complaints about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s words and actions toward them, the number of lawmakers calling for him to resign began rising again Wednesday night.

ALBANY – On the heels of a new allegation against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and a referral of the claim to Albany police, Assembly Democrats Thursday evening authorized the start of an investigation to determine if the Democratic governor should be impeached.

After a virtual meeting with his colleagues, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the chamber's judiciary committee will launch a probe of Cuomo into "misconduct" allegations lodged against the embattled three-term governor.

Heastie said the investigation will not interfere with one already started and overseen by Attorney General Letitia James. While it could take weeks to conclude, during which time lawmakers and Cuomo are set to negotiate a new, $200 billion state budget, Heastie promised a thorough and expeditious process.

"The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious," Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said in a written statement.

The investigation will be led by Assembly Judiciary Chairman Charles Lavine, a Long Island Democrat and well-respected lawyer.

James on Thursday said the Assembly's action will have no bearing on the work her office is overseeing. "Our investigation will continue," she said.

Pressure to step aside

Meanwhile, some lawmakers from Cuomo's own party are starting to press a new route for the governor, who has said there is “no way” he would resign: temporarily step aside and let Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul act in his capacity.

The state constitution would permit Cuomo to step aside as an alternative to his outright resignation or impeachment, a legal route that does not appear to have the votes among Democrats.

The idea of Cuomo stepping aside – at least until an investigation overseen by James is completed in May – gathered steam in private talks among lawmakers Wednesday.

Assemblyman John McDonald, an Albany County Democrat, tweeted Wednesday that “it is in the best interest of our state” that Cuomo step aside and let Hochul serve as governor until the James report is issued “or any other potential inquiries reach a conclusion or a removal determination under the law is made.”

“These are serious allegations and the people of the state of New York need steady leadership without distraction," McDonald wrote.

Albany police informed

The lawmaker’s comments came after the Albany Times Union reported that an unidentified Cuomo staffer has accused the Democratic governor of groping a woman at the Executive Mansion a few blocks from the state Capitol.

The newspaper, quoting an unnamed source, said the woman late last year was called to the governor’s mansion to help him with a cellphone matter. When there, Cuomo closed the door to a room and reached under her blouse and fondled her, the paper reported.

Cuomo denied the incident occurred, but his office said that it had followed state policy and reported the allegation to the Albany Police Department. A criminal probe has not been started, but the police agency did reach out to the woman's lawyer to offer its services, if she wants them, to the woman.

Beth Garvey, the acting counsel in Cuomo's office, said in a statement that state policy dictates that allegations about physical contact are handled by telling the accuser to reach out to police.

"If they decline, the agency has an obligation to reach out themselves and inform the (police) department of the allegation. In this case, the person is represented by counsel, and when counsel confirmed the client did not want to make a report, the state notified the police department and gave them the attorney's information," Garvey said.

The woman is the sixth case to emerge in which Cuomo has been accused of sexual harassment. But this accusation, as described in the Times Union account, could rise to the level of criminal sexual wrongdoing.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a Democrat, issued a statement late Wednesday saying that no criminal complaint has been filed by the woman in the latest accusation against Cuomo. But she said Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins has assured her that his department “stands ready to assist any victim who seeks to come forward.”

Succession questions raised

The question of succession has been raised as the scandal enveloping Cuomo has spread. If a governor dies or resigns from office, the lieutenant governor “shall become” the governor.

But the lieutenant governor “shall act as governor” in several other instances: if a governor is impeached, is out of state, “or otherwise unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office of governor.” The lieutenant governor’s time as acting governor ends when “the inability shall cease or until the term of the governor shall expire.”

After the latest account of a woman making complaints about Cuomo’s words and actions toward her, the number of lawmakers calling for him to resign began rising again Wednesday. Lawmakers are also upset about Cuomo’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in nursing homes, including undercounting of how many residents of the facilities died last year from the virus.

“In light of these allegations, coupled with the deliberate mishandling and withholding of information, I believe it is in the best interest of the people of New York for the governor to resign," freshman Sen. Michelle Hinchey, a Hudson Valley Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday.

In the Assembly, where Democrats also hold a supermajority, freshman Jessica Gonzales-Rojas, a Queens Democrat, tweeted Wednesday: “I’ve had enough. Cuomo must be impeached.”

Thursday, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat, joined the Cuomo step-aside push. She previously was among 21 female Democratic Assembly members to say James’ investigation should be permitted to run its course before Cuomo’s fate is decided.

But with the most recent allegation involving Cuomo and one of his female staffers at the governor’s mansion, Fahey on Thursday said he should temporarily step aside “and let our well-respected” lieutenant governor serve as acting governor until the attorney general’s investigation is underway.

Assembly Democrats huddled on the Cuomo scandals in private Thursday to discuss all the options, including possible impeachment.

Meanwhile, Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic Party chairman and a Cuomo ally, said he respects the calls by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat, and a "large" number of Democratic lawmakers. He said that "out of respect for our broader party leadership," he will be calling a meeting of county Democratic leaders to get their perspectives on the scandals.

Cuomo’s office listed the governor as being in Albany Thursday with no public schedule yet. Hochul, meanwhile, had a busy day on her schedule with five appearances – all of them virtual – to groups including women builders and a teachers union.

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