ALBANY – The Assembly’s investigation that could lead to impeachment of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will take months and include far more issues than the recent accusations of sexual harassment against him, Assembly members said Tuesday.
Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) heads the probe, which will be conducted by the private legal firm Davis, Polk & Wardell. Lavine said the investigation will require months, not just weeks, until a recommendation to begin impeachment proceedings against Cuomo could be considered by the Assemby.
Lavine introduced on Tuesday the legal team hired to investigate claims to his committee that could lead to impeachment proceedings. Lavine said it will investigate "all credible allegations including, but not limited to: ‘Did the governor use his office to sexually harass or assault women who are his employees?’"
Additional areas of inquiry will include whether Cuomo misrepresented the number of deaths of nursing home residents from COVID-19; a March 25, 2020 guidance memo requiring nursing homes to accept patients from hospitals who tested positive for the virus; his contract to write a book touting his leadership during the pandemic; a lawsuit that claimed shortcuts were taken in the building of the Mario Cuomo Bridge; any retaliation against women who accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, and abusive behavior by Cuomo toward his staff and legislators; as well as any favorable treatment in legislation by Cuomo to his campaign contributors. The Assembly could also add new or additional accusations for investigation.
There was no immediate comment from Cuomo or from the private law firm the administration has hired. Cuomo has denied the sexual harassment allegations made by seven women and is no longer commenting publicly on the investigations.
Lavine promised an aggressive probe, although advocates continue to question the independence of the Democratic majority's investigation of the Democratic governor and head of the party.
In its first week on the job, the team and Lavine have already taken action.
"I served on the governor several days ago a notice of non-retaliation, putting the governor on notice that he and his employees and allies should take no steps toward intimidating witnesses or any potential witnesses," Lavine said.
The Assembly committee also plans to create a hotline for any more accusers or witnesses to provide tips and information to the legal team, Lavine said.
Lavine and Greg Andres, a partner in the law firm, said all attorneys who will work on the investigation have no conflicts of interest, despite some associations with state officials. That wasn’t enough of a guarantee for some advocates.
"Claiming there is no conflict of interest should not, and frankly is not, enough of an assurance that there isn't one," said Erica Vladimer, co-founder of the Sexual Harassment Working Group of state staffers created to combat sexual harassment. "We have yet to learn how Speaker (Carl) Heastie and Assembly member Lavine chose Davis, Polk … too many questions remain unanswered in what is clearly an opaque and unnecessary process."
Andres said the probe will follow "all the leads from our investigation" and report back to the Assembly committee as often as the members decide.
"We will use all methods available to us," said Andres, who has been a special counsel to Robert Mueller’s team that investigated efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. "That will include interviews … (and) the use of subpoenas to make sure there isn’t any obstruction or destruction of documents."
Meanwhile, a probe by another legal team under state Attorney General Letitia James continues into the sexual harassment accusations and a U.S. Justice Department probe is examining Cuomo’s handling of data on deaths of nursing home residents due to COVID-19.
Some Republicans were concerned whether the law firm would pursue the Democratic governor aggressively.
Assemb. Mary Beth Walsh (R-Ballston) said all members of the committee must have access to "source material," such as video and audio records of interviews, not just summaries submitted by the legal team.
She said Democrats say "everything is on the table. I want to make sure it really is."
The attorney for one of the former aides accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment, Charlotte Bennett, said "questions remain about the independence of this inquiry," although Bennett will cooperate with the Assembly investigation.
"If there is even a hint of political influence in the impeachment investigation, it will taint the entire proceedings," said attorney Debra Katz.