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Leaked audio shows Dem division over Cuomo impeachment probe

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx,

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, speaks during a news briefing at the state Capitol in Albany in June 2020. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Newly leaked audio shows Assembly Democrats wrangled for hours behind closed doors over whether to impeach Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo immediately or launch an investigation that might lead to the same result.

In the end, most agreed with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), who announced the investigation right after the March 11 Democratic meeting, according to Yahoo News, which published excerpts of the audio recording Tuesday.

According to the report, Heastie spelled out that the impeachment investigation would focus not only on sexual harassment allegations made against Cuomo by former aides but also nursing home policies amid the pandemic and a report of faulty bolts were used to finish building of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement over the Hudson River.

A Heastie spokesman declined to comment on the Yahoo report.

Besides the Assembly probe, Cuomo faces a separate investigation led by Attorney General Letitia James into the harassment allegations and a federal Department of Justice investigation into nursing homes. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, along with dozens of other Democrats, have called for his resignation.

The 107 Democrats who control the 150-seat Assembly met after a number of Assembly and Senate members called for Cuomo to resign.

According to Yahoo, several outspoken Cuomo critics in the Assembly wanted to move forward by bringing articles of impeachment immediately against the governor. They didn’t want the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with overseeing the investigation and making recommendations, to take the lead.

"The idea of a committee feels like we’re just kicking a can to be quite honest," said Assemb. Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas (D-East Elmhurst). "I don’t think the judiciary committee goes far enough and I do worry we’re just buying time."

But Heastie and many others said an investigation would provide due process for the embattled governor while allowing attorneys to gather statements made under oath rather than simply going by newspaper stories. If the probe recommends impeachment, then the entire Assembly can vote to bring charges against the governor.

"I try to come up with something that’s best for the body," Heastie said during the meeting, referring to lower house of the State Legislature. "Everybody might not love it, everybody may not like it, but I try to get us to a comfortable place that protects the integrity of this house."

At another point, the speaker told members: "We need to get witness testimony. We need to hear from people who have this information. You put them under oath," according to Yahoo.

But a number of legislators were concerned that Cuomo, who has largely controlled state politics for more than 10 years, would try to influence the probe. They noted that Jay Jacobs, the state and Nassau County Democratic chairman, issued a statement before the meeting was ended disclosing that the Assembly would launch an investigation. Jacobs is a Cuomo ally who has urged Democrats to withhold an opinion until the investigations are complete, according to Yahoo.

"You are already being co-opted because Jay Jacobs just sent around a statement," Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) said to Heastie. "Why would he do this?"

Jacobs on Tuesday denied Rosenthal’s implication.

"I never spoke to anybody on the governor’s staff before I issued that statement," Jacobs said. "I had heard from a number of people in advance of the (Assembly Democrats’) conference that the Speaker was planning on doing this. … I didn’t get it from any nefarious source and they’re making a mountain out of a mole hill."

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