As controversy and scandal continue to swirl around Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor has maintained his innocence of the most serious allegations against him, rebuffed calls for his resignation, and asked the public to reserve judgment on his situation until pending investigations into his conduct have been concluded. While dozens of elected officials have called on Gov. Cuomo to step down, others—notably including President Joe Biden—have expressed willingness to wait and see what facts are unearthed in the investigations.
At this writing, investigations of the Governor and his administration are being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the New York Attorney General, and the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
The FBI investigation is focused on the question of whether the Cuomo administration provided false information to the federal government regarding the number of nursing home residents who lost their lives to COVID-19. According to The New York Times, the FBI has interviewed officials from the New York State Department of Health and has also issued subpoenas for documents to the Governor’s office.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is also investigating the Cuomo administration. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Attorney General James is looking into the sexual misconduct allegations against Gov. Cuomo, as well as whether “his top officials enabled the behavior, how the administration handled the complaints, and whether it took steps to intimidate his accusers.” To date, the Attorney General’s Office has interviewed at least three of the Governor’s accusers.
On March 23, 2021, the Assembly Judiciary Committee held its first public hearing regarding its impeachment investigation into Gov. Cuomo. Pursuant to directions from Speaker Carl Heastie, the investigation will encompass “all credible allegations” against the Governor. The investigation will focus on allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, allegations of a cover-up regarding COVID-19 nursing home deaths, and allegations of a cover-up of structural defects in the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. However, other areas—including alleged retaliation against the Governor’s accusers—may also be investigated. Asm. Charles Lavine, the chair of the Committee, has indicted that the investigation could take months, not weeks. The law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell has been hired to assist with the investigation.
Lindsay Boylan and Ana Liss, two of the women who have accused the Governor of sexual misconduct, have stated that they are not willing to cooperate with the Assembly investigation due to concerns about its impartiality. Boylan contends that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie opened the investigation to help the Governor by buying him additional time to contest the allegations against him. Others have questioned the hiring of Davis Polk & Wardwell due to the fact that Dennis Glazer—the husband of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore of the New York Court of Appeals, who was appointed by Gov. Cuomo—was a partner at the firm for many years. The individual attorneys handling the investigation have stated that the firm’s internal review process revealed no conflicts of interest on their part; also, Asm. Lavine indicated that Assembly leadership had conducted its own review of the firm’s background.
Once the Judiciary Committee completes its investigation, it may simply report on its findings; however, it may also draft articles of impeachment against the Governor. Under Article VI, § 24 of the New York State Constitution, the Governor of New York may be impeached only by a majority vote of the New York State Assembly. If the Assembly impeaches Gov. Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will—pursuant to Article IV, § 5 of the New York State Constitution—become acting governor of New York. Gov. Cuomo will then be tried before a court consisting of the judges of the New York Court of Appeals and the members of the State Senate. A two-thirds vote would be necessary for conviction. If Gov. Cuomo were convicted, he would be expelled from office and Lt. Gov. Hochul would serve the remainder of his term as Governor of New York. If the Governor were acquitted, he would resume his duties as Governor.
A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 54% of respondents oppose Gov. Cuomo’s impeachment. By a margin of 49%-43%, respondents did not believe that the Governor should resign. However, his approval ratings have dropped to a new low of 39%.
It is entirely possible that new allegations against Gov. Cuomo may surface in the coming months. It is also possible that additional investigations may be launched. At this point, New York voters should expect that the Governor’s fate will not be determined for some time.