ALBANY — The state Assembly won’t pursue impeachment charges against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo once his resignation takes effect, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced Friday.
Heastie (D-Bronx), in an interview with Newsday, said an Assembly investigation found "credible evidence" against Cuomo and likely would have resulted in impeachment charges.
But the primary purpose of the impeachment proceeding was to determine whether the governor should stay in office following sexual harassment claims and other allegations regarding actions that Cuomo took during the pandemic, Heastie said.
The governor’s decision to step down, announced Tuesday, effectively makes the question moot. Cuomo's resignation is to take effect Aug. 24.
Heastie said another driver in the decision to "suspend" proceedings is that the state constitution doesn’t clearly "authorize the Legislature to impeach and remove an elected official who is no longer in office."
"We don’t believe we do" have the authority to continue once Cuomo departs, Heastie said. The speaker added that he understood and agreed with Cuomo accusers who say the governor should be held accountable, but impeachment wouldn’t be an available avenue once the governor leaves.
Legislators would not have finished their investigation before Aug. 24.
Instead, the Assembly will do the "next best thing": turning over its evidence to various law enforcement agencies investigating Cuomo, Heastie said.
The attorney general has been looking into Cuomo’s $5.1 million book deal, Heastie noted. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the nursing home data. And prosecutors in five counties, including Nassau, have said they are looking into alleged sexual harassment incidents.
"The thing is, the federal government, the ... [attorney general] and local ... [prosecutors] are doing their own investigations," Heastie said. "We have not finished gathering evidence and we didn’t want to interfere with their investigations. So the next best thing to do is to turn over our evidence so they can conclude" their investigations.
Because of those other ongoing investigations, the Assembly won’t make the evidence publicly available at this time, a Heastie spokesman said.
Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head) said the Republican members of the impeachment committee may seek to do their own report detailing their findings.
"The people need to know what he actually did," Montesano said, referring to Cuomo.
Heastie said his view on "credible evidence" was based on the opinions of Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), chairman of the impeachment committee, and the outside law firm the Assembly hired to investigate Cuomo.
"They felt they had credible evidence," the Speaker said. In his statement, he said: "The evidence — we believe — could likely have resulted in articles of impeachment had he not resigned."
A Cuomo spokesman didn’t immediately comment.
On Tuesday Cuomo, 63, announced he would resign, effective two weeks from then. The third-term Democrat is stepping down after an attorney general’s report concluded that he sexually harassed 11 women and broke multiple laws, and the Assembly announced it likely would vote on impeachment charges by the end of the month.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, will take over, becoming New York’s first woman governor.
Nearly all the 63 Republicans in the Senate and Assembly wanted to continue impeachment proceedings even after Cuomo leaves. A number of Democrats — especially the more liberal members — also favored it.
Continuing would provide two things, they said: A full airing of the evidence collected and a chance to bar Cuomo from ever holding public office again.
But it’s not an option once Cuomo resigns, Lavine said in a memo also released Friday.
"If an official resigns his or her public office at any point before conviction after trial in the Court for the Trial of Impeachments, the court would lose its jurisdiction to rule in the matter, as it may only render a judgment that removes an official from office," Lavine wrote.
Officially, the impeachment proceeding will be "suspended," stopping short of terminated. A Monday meeting of the impeachment committee has been canceled.
Some lawmakers said that wasn’t good enough.
"Moving forward with the impeachment would have brought a necessary conclusion to an important endeavor and ensured Andrew Cuomo would never be permitted to hold statewide office," said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski). "Instead, mountains of evidence and months of work will now be hidden from the public by this disappointing, tone-deaf decision."
A leading watchdog agreed the evidence should be revealed.
"New Yorkers deserve to see the work product that they paid for. At minimum, a report should be produced," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
The news came as the exodus of top Cuomo officials continued, including one cited in the attorney general’s sexual harassment report.
Linda Lacewell, commissioner of financial services, announced her resignation, effective Aug. 24, according to multiple media reports.
She had served in a number of roles over the decade and was among the inner circle of Cuomo advisers who, according to the attorney general, discussed releasing the personnel records of one of Cuomo’s accusers and writing an op-ed to discredit the woman.
Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top adviser and fierce loyalist, also announced her resignation, effective the same date. DeRosa also allegedly worked to undermine credibility of sexual harassment claims, according to the attorney general.