Cuomo Impeachment Probe Kicks Off With Hearing, Tip Line
(Bloomberg) -- The New York Assembly said Tuesday it was launching a tip hotline for any information related to the multiple scandals facing Andrew Cuomo as part of an impeachment investigation as it warned the Democratic governor not to interfere.
The investigation into whether the three-term governor misused his authority could take months and doesn’t have a set timeline, Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine said during the panel’s first hearing on allegations against Cuomo.
Cuomo is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct as well as a report that says he undercounted coronavirus deaths at nursing homes around the state.
The Assembly is not yet initiating impeachment proceedings but is taking the first step in that direction. The probe’s findings could provide the legal basis to write formal articles of impeachment, a process that hasn’t been seen in New York since 1913.
“There is very little precedent for impeachment in New York,” Lavine said. “The questions we are dealing with are so incredibly profound.”
Lavine, a Democrat, said he recently warned Cuomo about any interference with the investigation by his aides and advisers, who have been accused of contacting and intimidating their critics to suppress information.
“I served on the governor several days ago, a notice of non-retaliation,” Lavine said during the hearing. “In other words, putting the governor on notice that he and his employees and allies should take no steps toward intimidating any witness or any potential witness.”
The scope of the investigation will span, but is not limited to, multiple accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against the governor, as well as an alleged cover-up of Covid-19 nursing home deaths and structural problems on a state bridge, lawmakers said.
“Everything is on the table,” said Michael Montesano, an Assembly member who represents Long Island.
But lawmakers said multiple times they were reserving judgment until after the investigation.
Lavine said they should conduct the investigation in a way that provides due process to everyone involved “and to do so in a transparent manner so that all New Yorkers are informed.” He asked his colleagues to remain “judicious” and to withhold opinions on “guilt or lack of guilt.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced the probe on March 11 after dozens of members called for Cuomo to resign.
Cuomo denied all claims and refused to step down, prompting some lawmakers to push to draft articles of impeachment. Another group of lawmakers signed a letter saying Cuomo should stay until investigations are complete.
To forge a compromise among assembly members, Heastie directed the judiciary committee to launch a broad investigation into the governor’s behavior. The committee is afforded subpoena power to interview witnesses and evaluate evidence.
The Assembly’s investigation is separate from a sexual-harassment probe by lawyers appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who said her inquiry into sexual-harassment claims against Cuomo will continue regardless of any impeachment proceedings.
The inquiry, which is paid for with state funds, has drawn ire from the outset. Critics say the investigation is just a way for Cuomo to buy time for the scandals to die down and said the hiring of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP to carry out the investigation presents a conflict of interest.
The probe will be assisted by former federal prosecutors Greg Andres and Martine Beamon, as well as Angela Burgess, a white-collar defense attorney. But Dennis Glazer, an attorney with Davis Polk for 30 years, was a former Cuomo appointee and the husband of the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, also a Cuomo appointee. Glazer retired from the firm in 2012.
It’s unclear how the Assembly chose the law firm.
Burgess said Tuesday that the firm has a “robust process” to address conflicts of interest and concluded there was no issue. Lavine said the Assembly vetted multiple law firms and determined there was no conflict of interest with Davis Polk.
Andres said Tuesday that his team would be working “in parallel” with the attorney general’s office. He said the firm will soon begin gathering and preserving documents and has a half-dozen lawyers working on the case.
“We will work to coordinate to the extent possible with the relevant investigators in this case, whether it’s the New York Attorney General’s office or other offices, which isn’t to say we won’t also maintain the independence of this investigation,” Andres said.
Spokespeople for the attorney general’s office and Davis Polk didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
New York’s impeachment process works similarly to the federal one used most recently against former President Donald Trump. In this case, the process starts with an investigation that will present findings to the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which needs a majority vote to initiate proceedings. The state Senate then needs a two-thirds vote. The state Constitution doesn’t outline how long proceedings might last.
Lawmakers did not lay out the inquiry’s rules and procedures, details of the law firm’s contract and fees, how much of the inquiry will be public or the rights of the governor’s lawyers to participate.
They said they aimed to make the process transparent but advocated for in-person assembly meetings to prevent leaked video call transcripts, as well as confiscating mobile phones at the door.
“There certainly is a need for transparency but confidentiality is vitally important,” said Andres, the Davis Polk lawyer.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.