N.Y. Assembly Opens Cuomo Impeachment Inquiry, Hires Law Firm

The New York State Assembly on Wednesday said it hired law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP to carry out an impeachment investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo.

It’s the first step in a broad investigation into Cuomo that could lead to impeachment proceedings. The probe is expected to span multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Cuomo, as well as claims Cuomo’s administration withheld information on Covid-19 nursing home deaths, covered up structural problems on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, and whether Cuomo’s vaccine czar crossed ethics lines when he called county executives to gauge their loyalty to the governor.

The probe will be led by the state assembly’s judiciary committee, which will be afforded subpoena power to interview witnesses and evaluate evidence that could later serve as a legal basis for impeachment.

“The addition of Davis Polk will allow my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee and me to fully and fairly investigate the allegations,” Committee Chairman Charles Lavine said in a statement. “These are serious allegations, and they will be treated with fairness, due process and discretion.”

The investigation’s launch comes just weeks ahead of a March 31 deadline to pass a budget. The probe was announced after a March 11 meeting of the Assembly, which Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called in an effort find common ground among a camp of lawmakers who called for Cuomo to resign and another group of lawmakers who’ve advocated for waiting for an investigation to play out before taking action. The Assembly’s investigation is separate from a sexual-harassment probe by lawyers appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who said her investigation will continue regardless of any impeachment proceedings.

After recordings of the March 11 meeting leaked, Heastie told members of the legislature that he won’t call any more all-member conferences to discuss the Cuomo probe, which could make an impeachment inquiry into the governor less transparent. Heastie said on Monday that the investigation will likely be conducted both publicly and behind the scenes and that the scope of the investigation would be “very broad.”

New York’s impeachment process works mostly like the federal one used most recently against former President Donald Trump. The process starts with a majority vote in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, then moves to the state Senate, where a two-thirds vote by senators and the state’s top judges is required to convict.

Yet unlike the federal process, there is no “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard so the governor could be impeached for any reason lawmakers deem necessary. There’s also no telling how long the process could take because the state Constitution doesn’t provide any language on timing and there’s little precedent. The last impeachment was in 1913, and the Constitution is vague.

Heastie said Monday that he’s not sure how long the investigation will take. “I do think that it should be done expeditiously,” he said. “But I think to say that you have to come back with a decision in a week, or two weeks, or a month, would be unfair to the process of an investigation.”

He said he’s unsure of the investigation’s cost but that the money would come from state funds.

Davis Polk, including lawyers Angela Burgess, Greg Andres and Martine Beamon, will work with Lavine and the Assembly Judiciary Committee to lead the investigation. “They are authorized to vigorously pursue all the evidence to determine the extent to which violations of the law have occurred,” Heastie said in a statement.

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