Cuomo’s Political Path Brightens as Impeachment Inquiry Drags On
(Bloomberg) -- The tsunami of public anger directed at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just months ago has become stuck in the morass of Albany politics.
A legislative panel met Wednesday for the third time since convening in March to determine whether to open impeachment proceedings against Cuomo over an onslaught of allegations once thought to augur his downfall. The latest meeting, which lasted less than five minutes before heading into private executive session, revealed little progress or information about when the probe might conclude.
State lawmakers and government watchdogs expressed concern that the process is moving too slowly, allowing Cuomo to endure the Assembly inquiry into claims he sexually harassed aides, covered up Covid nursing-home deaths, provided family members with virus testing before it was widely available, mishandled construction of the Mario Cuomo Bridge and misused public resources while writing a $5 million leadership book. State Attorney General Letitia James and the FBI also are investigating some of the claims.
“We should have gone straight into impeachment when we had enough evidence to make that decision to remove him from a position of power,” said Assembly member Ron Kim, a Cuomo critic, in an interview. “What we’ve created is this space for Cuomo to use his position and public resources to re-brand himself.”
Indeed, Cuomo has shifted attention to New York’s recovery, flitting from one reopening announcement to the next as he lifts pandemic restrictions and touts improving Covid data. The governor, 63, has made more than a dozen public appearances in New York City, Long Island and across the state, but hasn’t held a briefing in front of the Albany press corps in six weeks.
The silence created by the ongoing probes has provided Cuomo with breathing room to redirect the political narrative. It’s a change from the near-daily assault of allegations against the third-term governor starting last year that led dozens of lawmakers to call for his resignation.
“The Assembly has had more than enough reason to draft articles of impeachment and begin impeachment hearings in the Senate as written in our Constitution. The Assembly Judiciary Committee’s investigation is simply an attempt to appease and buy time for the Governor, rather than holding him accountable for his actions,” said state Senator Alessandra Biaggi. “The lack of movement and transparency in the judiciary committee’s investigation only proves that point.”
These days, Cuomo holds speeches flanked by supporters who praise his mandate to leave Covid behind and get back to business.
“Life is not about going back, it’s about going forward,” he said during a Monday briefing on Jones Beach in Long Island, where he said he summered with his family as a young boy. “The longest night eventually gives way to the dawn and the longest winter literally yields to the sun at the end of the day.”
The governor’s strategy appears to be working: Cuomo’s public approval rose to 44% in a Siena College poll conducted May 16-22, from 40% in April. Among Democrats, two-thirds of registered voters have a favorable view of Cuomo, who is up for re-election in 2022. When asked on Wednesday whether the polling validates his refusal to resign, Cuomo said he is “gratified that New Yorkers think I am doing a good job.”
Jay Jacobs, chair of the New York Democratic Party, said in an interview that fundraising for the party hasn’t stalled and that in terms of criticism about Cuomo, “things have been very quiet, relatively quiet, since the initial flurry of allegations.”
“Everybody is awaiting the results of the attorney general’s report and then we’ll see what happens in the Assembly,” Jacobs said.
Spokespeople for Cuomo’s office and campaign didn’t respond to questions about Cuomo’s fundraising tallies, which aren’t required to be disclosed until July. Spokespeople for James and Assemblyman Charles Lavine, who chairs the judiciary committee, declined to comment. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the investigations “are all ongoing and complex,” adding they need to “run their course.”
In the meantime, multiple investigations loom large. Three people familiar with the Assembly probe say lawmakers are hesitant to go forward with impeachment proceedings until they see the findings of the sexual-harassment and misconduct probes by the attorney general’s office, which they say is expected to be more thorough. A contract with lawyers retained by the Assembly has capped spending at $250,000, which critics like Kim say isn’t enough to “reflect the gravity of the investigations.” He pegged the cost at over $2 million. On Wednesday, Lavine said the cap was only for an initial contract, which can and likely will be amended.
James has subpoenaed at least four of the eight Cuomo harassment accusers, according to their lawyers. Charlotte Bennett, a former health policy adviser who said Cuomo harassed her during the height of the pandemic, is expected to give testimony under oath to the attorney general’s office within the next two weeks, her lawyers said. They said Bennett sat for a four-hour interview with James’s office, has submitted more than 120 pages of records and identified two dozen possible eyewitnesses.
Alyssa McGrath, an administrative assistant and the first current aide to publicly accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment, has also been subpoenaed but does not have a set date to testify yet, according to her lawyer.
Not all of the accusers have agreed to cooperate with both probes, placing increased emphasis on James’s investigation. Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development official who was the first woman to come forward with allegations against Cuomo last December, criticized the Assembly’s investigation, calling it a “sham” in a March post on Twitter. Ana Liss, another accuser and former policy and operations aide in Cuomo’s office, has also said she will not cooperate with the Assembly investigation.
Two people familiar with James’s investigation said they don’t expect the probe to wrap up before the end of this summer. They said the office has worked hard to keep a tight lid on developments and is taking the issue seriously and rigorously.
Leaving Politics ‘At the Door’
Cuomo’s office has suggested politics may be tainting the investigation. James called those implications “personal attacks on me and my office” during a press conference last Friday, adding “politics stops at the door.” James declined to say when the investigation would be complete but said it’s been “very thorough and comprehensive.”
Even the Assembly’s investigation has stayed mostly leak-proof. People with knowledge of the committee’s process say the information is primarily kept between top leaders and the Davis Polk & Wardwell lawyers retained to conduct the probe.
Before the sexual harassment and other allegations surfaced, Cuomo had said he would run for re-election. He has since declined to comment on his political plans. In the Siena poll, 37% of respondents said they would vote for Cuomo if he ran again.
Nick Langworthy, chairman of the state Republican party, accused Assembly Democrats of stalling in order to protect Cuomo.
“There is already more than enough evidence to warrant Cuomo’s removal from office, yet the Assembly continues to dither and protect his power at the expense of New Yorkers,” Langworthy said Wednesday in a statement.
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