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New York lawmakers launch Cuomo impeachment investigation

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks.

The Assembly will authorize the chamber’s Judiciary Committee to look into the allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. | Seth Wenig/AP Photo

ALBANY, N.Y. — Democrats in the New York Legislature delivered a severe blow to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, emerging from a lengthy private meeting with a promise to launch their own investigation into the governor’s behavior — the first step toward impeachment.

Speaker Carl Heastie, addressing Democratic Assembly colleagues in the roughly five-hour meeting, laid out the “potential paths forward” to removing the increasingly embattled governor from office, according to four lawmakers in attendance. Two described the meeting as tense.

By the time the closed-door debate officially wrapped around 5 p.m., a decision had been made: The Assembly would authorize the chamber’s Judiciary Committee to look into the allegations against Cuomo, arming the committee with subpoena power and likely the aid of outside legal counsel.

A statement from Heastie following the meeting announced he was authorizing the committee — led by Assemblymemer Charles Lavine of Nassau County — “to examine allegations of misconduct against Governor Cuomo.”

“The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious,” Heastie said. “The committee will have the authority to interview witnesses, subpoena documents and evaluate evidence, as is allowed by the New York State Constitution. I have the utmost faith that Assemblymember Lavine and the members of the committee will conduct an expeditious, full and thorough investigation.”

Heastie said the chamber’s investigation would run concurrent — and would not interfere with — an independent probe Attorney General Tish James has launched into Cuomo, who has faced growing calls for his resignation amid allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate workplace behavior and a cover-up of Covid-19 nursing home deaths. Cuomo’s administration also referred the latest accusation to the Albany Police Department.

“Today’s action by the New York state legislature will have no bearing on our independent investigation into these allegations against Governor Cuomo,” James said in a statement Thursday evening. “Our investigation will continue.”

The Assembly’s action came one day after the Times Union detailed allegations that Cuomo fondled an aide under her blouse late last year when they were alone in the governor’s private residence. The unnamed aide told colleagues she was summoned to the Executive Mansion, which is a short walk from the governor’s office in the state Capitol, to help him with an issue on his cell phone, the newspaper reported.

Cuomo has denied that he ever “inappropriately touched” anyone and specifically denied the latest accusation in a statement on Wednesday.

The new allegation, marking the sixth claim of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior by the governor, spurred more than 50 Democratic lawmakers to issue a joint letter on Thursday morning calling on Cuomo to resign.

A majority of Assemblymembers have now voiced support for ending Cuomo’s tenure. A total of 36 Democrats had called for the governor to resign and seven for him to be impeached ahead of Thursday’s conference meeting. Those 43 members, coupled with the chamber’s 43 Republicans, adds up to 86 — 10 more than would be required to impeach the governor.

But calling for the governor’s resignation is not the same as supporting the politically disruptive process of impeachment, and it’s unlikely the Assembly would move ahead with impeachment unless at least 54 Democrats, a majority, support doing so.

Democrats present in the Assembly conference meeting Thursday said that the discussion revolved more around the process and the speed at which they’d act than whether the allegations were true. One described the consensus to move toward impeachment as “overwhelming.”

A few, however, worried the discussion was mostly for show. Midway through the conference, State Democratic Committee Chair Jay Jacobs, who has been Cuomo’s staunchest defender in recent weeks, released a statement characterizing the latest allegation as “serious and disturbing” and agreed with the Assembly’s move — which hadn’t been announced yet — to launch an investigation of its own.

“With the preponderance of these allegations I agree with Speaker Heastie that now is the time for the Legislature to commence its own review of these matters as a part of its Constitutional responsibilities,” he said.

Jacobs said he will convene a special meeting of county chairs to gauge their perceptions.

Some of Cuomo’s harsher critics were pushing for a quicker process. One Democrat said about a dozen members had pushed for immediate action in drafting articles of impeachment. Otherwise, another of that group said, Cuomo can continue to operate under the same playbook he’s been following: Urging the public and politicians to wait on the results of an investigation.

“We just spent hours debating what the next steps should be and for [Jacobs] to put that out makes me wonder whether this is a staged effort to give Cuomo more time,” one legislator said.

Another of that pro-impeachment cohort said they were disappointed the process will go more slowly than they wanted, but regardless, felt the probe could serve as a signal for Cuomo to take matters into his own hands and resign: “It is due process. It is an investigation and a trial. And it also takes the governor out of the equation from having influence over the processes.“

And while Cuomo has rejected calls to resign, some hope the new investigation — and support for impeachment — could push the governor to reconsider.

“It would be much a smoother operation if [Cuomo] just exited stage left,” one Democrat said.

State GOP Chair Nick Langworthy said in a statement Thursday that Republican “calls for a subpoena-driven investigation into Cuomo’s deadly nursing home coverup have been resisted by the Democrat-controlled legislature.”

“This reeks of a political maneuver designed by Speaker Heastie to buy time and exploit the Governor’s weakness during the heat of budget negotiations,” Langworthy said.

Bill Mahoney and Marie French contributed to this report.

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