ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The New York state Assembly will suspend its investigation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo once he steps down after its leaders concluded they didn’t have the authority to impeach a departed official, the chamber’s top Democrat said Friday.
Cuomo announced Tuesday that he planned to resign over sexual harassment allegationsas it became clear he was almost certain to be impeached by the Legislature. He said his resignation was effective in 14 days, at which point he will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Some lawmakers had urged the Assembly to press on with an impeachment proceeding, perhaps to bar Cuomo from holding state office in the future if he attempted a political comeback.
But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement that lawyers had advised the Legislature’s judiciary committee that lawmakers lack the constitutional authority to do so.
Heastie provided reporters with that unsigned legal memo, which said the “question has not been definitely answered” but that lawmakers “probably” lack the power.
“Let me be clear — the committee’s work over the last several months, although not complete, did uncover credible evidence in relation to allegations that have been made in reference to the governor,” said Heastie, a New York City Democrat.
He said that included evidence related to the sexual harassment claims, possible misuse of state resources in conjunction with publication of the governor’s book on the pandemic, and “improper and misleading disclosure of nursing home data.”
“This evidence — we believe — could likely have resulted in articles of impeachment had he not resigned,” Heastie said.
Cuomo’s office and his lawyer, Rita Glavin, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The state attorney general last week released an independent investigation that concludedCuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women.
The first woman to publicly accuse Cuomo of misconduct, Lindsey Boylan, called the Assembly leadership’s decision to call off its separate investigation “an unjust cop out.”
“The public deserves to know the extent of the Governor’s misdeeds and possible crimes. His victims deserve justice and to know he will not be able harm others,” she tweeted.
Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Democrat on the committee, told NY1 Tuesday that lawmakers have more important work to do than focus on Cuomo’s “future career choices.”
Since March, outside lawyers have been helping the Assembly conduct a wide-ranging investigation on whether there were grounds to impeach Cuomo. The announcement that the inquiry would cease came on a day the Assembly had initially set as a deadline for Cuomo’s legal team to respond with any additional evidence refuting the allegations against him.
Heastie said that he’s asked the committee to turn over evidence it had gathered “to the relevant investigatory authorities.”
Cuomo faces ongoing probes from the state attorney general over his $5 million book deal and from federal prosecutors, who are scrutinizing his handling of nursing home deaths data. The state’s ethics commissioners, who could levy fines against Cuomo, are also looking into similar issues.
Heastie also cited “active investigations” by county district attorneys in Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, Nassau and Oswego concerning incidents of alleged sexual harassment by Cuomo.
Several women have said the governor inappropriately touched them, including an aide who said he groped her breast at his official residence, the Executive Mansion. That aide, Brittany Commisso, filed a criminal complaint that could result in a misdemeanor groping charge.
Some members said Friday they wanted the committee to at least release a public report. Heastie’s statement didn’t say whether the committee would still publicize its findings.
All six Republicans and eight out of 14 Democrats on the committee said the Assembly should release such a report to the public, according to their public statements and interviews with The Associated Press. The remaining Democrats didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Assemblymember David Weprin, a Democrat on the committee, said Friday an impeachment trial would have been a “tremendous waste of government resources.”
Heastie said earlier this week that the Assembly probe has already cost the state “millions,” but didn’t provide AP with an estimate.
Meanwhile, Republicans and several Democrats objected to the end of the Legislature’s probe. Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay called it “a massive disservice to the goals of transparency and accountability.”
Assemblymember Tom Abinanti, a Westchester Democrat on the committee, said he objected to the decision, calling it “premature.”
“The governor has not even left office,” he said. “The committee should continue to meet and issue a public report to the people on the extensive investigation that the committee and its attorneys have conducted to date.”
Several committee members said Heastie took them by surprise: Democratic Assemblymembers Monica Wallace and Phil Steck said they didn’t know Heastie and the committee’s chair, Charles Lavine, had reached a decision until Heastie’s announcement.
“I would have preferred that we met as a group before this conclusion was reached,” Wallace told WIVB-TV.
Legal experts this week said they had questions over both the legality and practicality of trying to impeach Cuomo after he’d already left office.
Ross Garber, an attorney who has represented four recent U.S. governors facing impeachment proceedings in their respective states, had told The Associated Press his reading of state law is that a person must be in office at the time of impeachment.
Richard Rifkin, an attorney who has worked in state government for 40 years, including in the attorney general’s office and as a special counsel to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, said the language in the state Constitution on impeachment was “really quite vague” and that there wasn’t definitive precedent saying whether impeachment could continue after Cuomo left office.
Attribution on a quote in this story has been corrected to reflect that it was said by Heastie, not Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine. The story has also been corrected to reflect that federal, not state, prosecutors are investigating the handling of nursing home data.