Following Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s resignation earlier this week over sexual harassment accusations, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly said Friday that legislators would postpone their current impeachment inquiry.
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The speaker of the Assembly, Carl E. Heastie, said the investigation was pointless since the primary goal was to decide if Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, should be re-elected. Mr. Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, also said that legislators lacked the constitutional right to impeach a governor who was no longer in office.
Mr. Cuomo, whose retirement is set to take effect later this month, announced his decision on Tuesday, after the release of a report by the New York State attorney general alleging that he sexually harassed 11 women. The Assembly had been looking into some of the same accusations, among others, and once the report was published, it moved swiftly toward impeachment.
Mr. Cuomo will have one less worry now that the probe has been suspended, since he might have found himself in the midst of an expensive impeachment trial. Local, state, and federal authorities are still looking into Mr. Cuomo.
Nonetheless, Mr. Heastie said that the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry “did find solid material in connection to accusations” leveled against Mr. Cuomo.
Mr. Heastie said the evidence was linked to just to the sexual harassment allegations, but also to Mr. Cuomo’s possible abuse of state money in putting together a leadership book, which he authored in a $5.1 million contract during the epidemic last year. There was also evidence of “misleading disclosure” of statistics on nursing home fatalities, according to Mr. Heastie.
Mr. Heastie said in a statement that “this evidence, we think, could have likely resulted in articles of impeachment had he not resigned.”
Mr. Heastie said in an interview that he had not seen the material but had been assured it was credible by the Judiciary Committee and independent attorneys hired by the Assembly. He said that the information will be handed over to law enforcement authorities to investigate “whether or not anything illegal occurred.”
Mr. Heastie said, “Those problems belong with those investigative agencies.” “The Assembly’s true duty was to consider impeachment. We won’t be able to perform that function if the governor resigns.”
He said that he did not want to make the information public since the inquiry was coming to a conclusion before it was finished. “They would have required more time,” he added, referring to the Assembly-hired investigators.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are looking into the Cuomo administration’s effort to hide the true number of nursing home residents who died during the epidemic. At least five local prosecutors have launched investigations into Mr. Cuomo’s sexual misconduct claims, including those in Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, Nassau, and Oswego. The state attorney general, Letitia James, is also investigating how Mr. Cuomo utilized public resources, including as personnel and materials, to produce his book.
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Republicans and many Democrats, who control the State Legislature, slammed the move to terminate the inquiry without releasing a public report.
Assemblyman Dan Quart, a Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, stated, “At the absolute least, the committee should have finished its inquiry, produced a report outlining all elements of the governor’s misbehavior and breaches of state law, and made that report public.”
Will Barclay, the Assembly’s Republican minority leader, also slammed the decision. “This regrettable, tone-deaf decision will now hide mountains of evidence and months of effort from the public,” he added.
However, once Mr. Cuomo resigns, Charles Lavine, the head of the Judiciary Committee, indicated on Friday that the committee will consider releasing a public report with some of the findings.
Mr. Heastie’s spokesperson, Michael Whyland, said, “We have not ruled out the possibility of a report in the future.” But what we don’t want to do is get in the way of any ongoing criminal investigations.”
Mr. Heastie’s decision came after lawmakers debated whether or not to seek impeachment for many days.
Republicans and some Democratic legislators, particularly those from the party’s loud left side, had been pressing for an impeachment vote even after Mr. Cuomo’s departure, claiming they wanted to hold him responsible. In recent days, several of the women who had accused Mr. Cuomo, such as Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, have expressed their support for impeachment.
If Mr. Andrew Cuomo had been impeached in the Assembly and then convicted in a Senate trial, legislators might have barred him from ever running for office again.
However, it was unclear whether the assembly could impeach an official who had already left office under the State Constitution, which offers minimal instruction on impeachment. Legislators might have hurried to impeach Mr. Cuomo before he resigned, but the trial would have taken place after he left office, creating constitutional issues.
There has never been an impeachment of a former governor in New York; the only governor to be impeached was William Sulzer in 1913, who was removed from office but not barred from running again.
Many Democrats had advocated against impeaching Mr. Cuomo, claiming that the process would be a costly distraction for the party, particularly during Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first few months in office.
Davis Polk & Wardwell, an independent legal firm, was in charge of the Assembly’s comprehensive impeachment inquiry.
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