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Assembly hires NYC law firm for Cuomo impeachment probe

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, speaks with reporters

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, speaks with reporters outside the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, on Feb. 12, 2018. Credit: Hans Pennink/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The state Assembly announced Wednesday it has retained a New York City-based law firm to lead the impeachment investigation of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

But the hiring of Davis, Polk & Wardwell was quickly criticized as "an unacceptable conflict of interest" by an attorney for Charlotte Bennett, one of the former Cuomo aides who have accused the Democratic governor of sexually harassing them. Another, Lindsey Boylan, criticized the selection of the law firm and indicated she wouldn't cooperate, writing on Twitter: "Hard Pass."

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said in a statement that Davis, Polk and Wardell is a "top-flight firm" with nearly 1,000 attorneys in offices in major cities in the United States, Europe and the Far East. Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, led the search and will work with the firm on the probe.

One of the three Davis Polk lawyers who will be involved is Greg Andres, who worked as special counsel to Robert Mueller during his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"Hiring Davis Polk will give the committee the experience, independence and resources needed to handle this important investigation in a thorough and expeditious manner," Heastie said.

Cuomo, in a later conference call with reporters, would not comment on the impeachment probe. The governor also declined to comment on a report that his administration prepared and circulated a letter attacking the credibility of one of his accusers, though it was never published.

While the Assembly and Senate were otherwise conducting regular legislative business at the State Capitol Wednesday, an airplane backed by several women's groups flew over the building with a banner reading "New Yorkers Say: Cuomo's Got to Go!"

The speaker has said the Assembly probe will focus on three areas in which to possibly bring charges against the governor: Sexual harassment allegations made against the governor, his administration’s nursing home policies amid the pandemic and a report that alleged faulty bolts were used in a rush job to finish the building of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement over the Hudson River.

Cuomo is facing more than one probe: Attorney General Letitia James is overseeing a separate investigation of the sexual harassment allegations and the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Cuomo's administration's handling of nursing homes. Many leading Democrats have called on him to resign but he has refused.

But Debra Katz, Bennett's attorney, criticized the selection of Davis Polk because Dennis Glazer once was a partner there, though he left nearly a decade ago. Glazer is married to New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who was appointed to her post by Cuomo and whom Cuomo once floated as possibly leading the sexual harassment investigation.

"We were alarmed to learn that Speaker Heastie has hired Davis Polk to assist with the investigation, given the connection between Dennis Glazer, who spent more than 30 years as a partner at Davis Polk, and the governor. This is an unacceptable conflict of interest," Katz said.

"The involvement of Davis Polk gives (Bennett) pause," she continued. "I suspect it will have the same effect on other women who were sexually harassed by the governor."

Boylan also was highly critical, writing: "What would be the point of survivors talking to investigators of your sham investigation @CarlHeastie? I am in conversation with other women who have no interest in your corrupt, cynical 'investigation.' Hard pass."

Heastie defended the selection, saying two of the three attorneys selected were former federal prosecutors. He also downplayed criticism that not all of the nearly two dozen Judiciary Committee members were consulted about the selection.

"They were vetted internally and externally," Heastie said. "I don't believe there will be any conflict. I believe they will give us a thorough and fair investigation."

DiFiore, through a spokesman, said she has no ties to the firm.

"Davis Polk is a large multinational law firm with hundreds of employees and thousands of clients," said Office of Court Administration spokesman Lucian Chalfen. "The Chief Judge has neither any connection to the firm nor was involved with its choice by the Assembly Judiciary Committee."

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