ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could be ousted “in a matter of weeks, not months” if a committee charged with investigating the Democratic governor recommends the legal articles of impeachment to the full Assembly, the leader of the 150-member chamber said Monday.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat and onetime key ally of the governor, said the “overall sense” he gets from rank-and-file Assembly members is that they have “no confidence” that Cuomo can continue to lead New York State and that the impeachment process will be moving “with all due haste.”
The Assembly leader and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine, a Nassau County Democrat, told reporters repeatedly that while there is a push on to rapidly finish the impeachment matter, there are also due process rights afforded Cuomo, as well as the women who say he sexually harassed them.
Lavine, who spent years in private practices as a criminal defense lawyer, said lawmakers want to ensure that people 100 or 200 years from now will believe that the 2021 impeachment process involving Cuomo was fair – something many historians don’t believe happened with in 1913 with Gov. William Sulzer, the sole New York governor to ever be impeached.
“Our intention, the intention of everyone … is to do what is right," Lavine said.
Lavine spoke after a four-hour private meeting among Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee as they heard reports from the outside lawyers hired to run the impeachment investigation.
While the focus of Attorney General Letitia James' report last week was solely about what she believes are credible allegations of sexual harassment by Cuomo brought by 11 women, the Assembly probe goes further. It seeks to determine whether Cuomo: used state resources to write a book about the Covid-19 pandemic that led to a $5.1 million book deal; ordered the undercounting of nursing home residents who died in 2020 from Covid-19; and moved to the front of the list some friends and family members to get Covid-19 tests while New Yorkers scrambled to get vaccinated.
Lavine said the committee will hold two more executive session meetings – Aug. 16 and 23 – as well as public hearings to take testimony from workplace sexual harassment experts and scholars and others on the state’s impeachment process.
The governor remained holed up mostly at the state’s Executive Mansion in Albany a day after he saw yet another loyalist – his former top adviser – leave his side.
Meanwhile, it was not a good day for government transparency.
• Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will become the state’s chief executive if Cuomo resigns or is impeached, did not have a public schedule. A spokesman would say only that she was “somewhere in New York State.”
• The day after Melissa DeRosa, the highest-ranking, non-elected official in the Executive Branch, resigned , the Cuomo administration would not say if someone had been replaced in the job as “Secretary to the Governor.” Such a replacement appointment might signal Cuomo’s near-term intentions for remaining in office. The state comptroller's office, which runs the state payroll system, said Monday evening that it had not been notified yet by Cuomo's office that DeRosa is off the payroll.
• The Assembly Judiciary Committee was in a public session for about nine minutes, including before and after its closed-door session, and all of that public time featured Lavine reading from a script. Lavine said the investigation has to remain confidential, at least for now, given the sensitive information being received. But he said some of the panel's work will take place during public hearings.
Lavine also resurrected a term, contained in the state constitution, that has been replaced by a different word since the constitution was constructed and amended over the centuries.
“Today, we would say corruption of office," he said of a sufficient legal standard to impeach a New York governor.
Lavine noted that the term means more than “being on the take for a few bucks here and a few bucks there.”
The Assembly leader and Lavine both talked of the Judiciary Committee’s process wrapping up in several weeks, though they did not provide a specific date. If the 150-member Assembly approves the articles of impeachment against Cuomo – 76 votes are needed – Cuomo would be immediately removed from office pending a trial, which could occur no sooner than 30 days later, before state senators and judges from the state’s highest court.
Lavine said that he is “fully confident” that if his committee votes to advance articles of impeachment that they will be “air tight” against Cuomo. Members of the committee on Aug. 16 will be permitted to view records obtained in the attorney general’s case, including Cuomo’s 11-hour deposition on July 17.
The panel’s members include Western New York Assembly members Monica Wallace and Karen McMahon, both Democrats, and Republican Michael Norris.
Lavine later told reporters that impeachment of Cuomo would become “moot” if the governor resigns. But he noted the impeachment trial court in the Senate could still move to bar Cuomo from ever holding office again in New York.
While the committee was moving forward, Rita Glavin, a private attorney representing Cuomo, continued to make the legal defense on the governor’s behalf. She suggested again that the attorney general’s investigation was not conducted fairly, and that nearly all of the allegations against Cuomo by the 11 women do not involve incidents of workplace sexual harassment.
Of the alleged workplace incidents, she said the most serious claim came from Cuomo staffer Brittany Commisso, who said Cuomo groped her at the Executive Mansion.
“It just did not happen," Glavin told MSNBC of the staffer’s claims.
Commisso, 33, who served as an executive assistant to Cuomo, spoke publicly Monday for the first time about alleged incidents, including that Cuomo groped her breast.
Cuomo has denied ever touching anyone inappropriately, including Commisso.
"I know what happened and so does she," Commisso said in an interview by CBS News and the Albany Times Union.
Heastie on Monday also said that he had not spoken to Cuomo since budget talks concluded in April, another piece of evidence on the derailment of the normal course of business in the state Capitol of New York.
In a recent attorney general's report, Commisso was identified as "Executive Assistant #1." She said Monday morning she hadn't taken any legal action against the governor until March 3, when he broadcast a video denying any wrongdoing. She said he had a "smirk" on his face and a look of being untouchable.
"That was the tipping point," she said.
Last week, after the attorney general's report was released that said Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, Commisso filed a criminal complaint against Cuomo with the Albany County Sheriff’s office. District attorneys in five counties are exploring potential criminal violations.
Over the years, Cuomo has sought to be the administration’s persuader-in-chief, whether to push various fiscal or policy matters or to defend himself during various scandals he has faced.
“You will be hearing from the governor directly soon," Glavin said Monday.