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Assembly impeachment panel reverses, will issue report on Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo prepares to board a

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignation, last Tuesday in New York City. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

ALBANY — The State Assembly will issue a report from its impeachment committee, leaders said Monday, reversing their position after heavy bipartisan criticism.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) had said Friday the chamber would suspend its investigation of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and not pursue impeachment because of the governor's resignation announcement. This decision came even though Heastie said the Assembly had found "credible evidence" that would have probably resulted in Cuomo’s impeachment.

The speaker came under heavy criticism from Republicans and some Democrats when he originally said the Assembly wouldn't complete its impeachment report and make it publicly available. They said the chamber had spent millions of taxpayers' dollars on the investigation and the public deserved to know what the investigators found.

In short order, Heastie changed direction.

In a joint statement with Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), chairman of the impeachment committee, Heastie said the chamber now will issue findings and make its report publicly available. The impeachment process itself, however, is still suspended.

"The Assembly Judiciary Committee will continue to review evidence and issue a final report on its investigation of Governor Cuomo," Heastie and Lavine said.

They said they will take steps to ensure releasing the report won’t interfere with multiple Cuomo investigations being conducted by federal, state and local prosecutors. Initially, Heastie said Friday the Assembly wouldn’t release its findings because it might impact the other investigations.

Cuomo on Aug. 10 announced he would resign. The governor's decision came after an attorney general's report found he sexually harassed 11 women and broke multiple state and federal laws in doing so. His resignation becomes effective at 11:59 p.m., Monday, Aug. 23, with now-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul taking over at midnight, according to Hochul's transition team.

The Assembly had been looking into those claims and more: Allegations that Cuomo used state personnel and material to help him produce a pandemic memoir that netted him a $5.1 million book contract, reports saying Cuomo family members and connected individuals received priority COVID-19 testing when tests were scarce, and the undercounting of nursing home deaths due to the virus.

Critics expressed relief at Heastie's reversal.

"I would suspect, based on the pressure he got all weekend, he realized he pulled the trigger too quick," said Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head), the ranking Republican on the impeachment committee. "I'm pleased he [Heastie] listened to us and heard that the people need closure. We spent a lot of public money and the people need to find out what the governor did. He [Cuomo] can't just walk away."

Women who had come forward to testify in the harassment investigation overseen by Attorney General Letitia James also had criticized Heastie's initial decision. Charlotte Bennett, a former Cuomo staffer and one of the governor's accusers, had said it "sends a very clear message to New Yorkers: the New York State Assembly thinks corruption, sexual harassment/assault and retaliation are acceptable."

The impeachment process remains suspended.

The speaker had said primary purpose of the impeachment proceeding was to determine whether the governor should stay in office. The governor’s decision to step down effectively makes the question moot, Heastie said.

Cuomo still hasn't submitted his official resignation letter.

When he steps down, Hochul will be sworn-in to fulfill the final 16 months of Cuomo's term, making her the state's first female governor. Hochul has said she soon will announce her pick for lieutenant governor.

Elsewhere, the fallout for Cuomo allies continued.

Rich Bamberger and Josh Vlasto confirmed Monday they have left Kivvit, a high-powered public relations firm. The two were key members of Cuomo's inner circle during his first term — Bamberger was the original communications director; Vlasto, press secretary and later,chief of staff. They were part of a team of outside advisers Cuomo brought it to respond to the harassment allegations and undertake efforts to undermine one of the accusers.

"We agreed to amicably part ways," Vlasto and Bamberger said in a joint statement, referring to their departure from Kivvit.

Last week, Roberta Kaplan resigned from "Time's Up," the Hollywood-based organization founded to fight sexual harassment, after the attorney general report detailed her involvement in Cuomo's effort to discredit an accuser.

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