Speaker Carl Heastie, the chamber’s top Democrat, said Friday that the body’s judiciary committee was advised by lawyers that the state constitution does not authorize lawmakers to impeach an elected official if the person is no longer in office.
Lawmakers were told they probably lack the constitutional authority to impeach, although the matter wasn’t settled definitely, per a legal memorandum Heastie had provided reporters.
Heastie pointed out another reason for ending the impeachment inquiry, saying in a statement, “The purpose of the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation was to determine whether Governor Cuomo should remain in office. The governor’s resignation answers that directive.”
The New York Assembly had opened an impeachment investigation in March after at least two former staffers publicly accused Cuomo of having sexually harassed them.
The impeachment inquiry was also probing the Cuomo administration’s underreporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, as well as possible misuse of state resources in relation to a book he published about his handling of the pandemic.
“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,” Heastie said Friday, adding that had Cuomo not resigned, the evidence could “likely have resulted in articles of impeachment.”
When asked whether lawmakers could still release a report with findings to the public as originally planned, Heastie said, “I guess it could.”
Cuomo, a Democrat, announced on Aug. 10 that he will resign as the state’s governor amid multiple sexual harassment allegations. The resignation is effective on Aug. 24, at which point Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will become governor.
His announcement came after the state attorney general concluded in a report on Aug. 3 that Cuomo had broken state and federal law by sexually harassing 11 women, including aides and a state trooper, and that his staff had mishandled allegations against him.
Cuomo, 63, continued to deny the various allegations of sexual harassment made against him, and said the claims were politically motivated. On Aug. 10, he said that a likely impeachment trial would send New York into turmoil amid the pandemic, so it was best for him to “step aside and let government get back to governing.”
Heastie denied that he and Cuomo had agreed on any deal to let Cuomo step down without facing impeachment proceedings.
All six Republicans and nine out of 15 Democrats on the Assembly’s judiciary committee said the Assembly should at least release a public report on the findings of the impeachment investigation. Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine, a Democrat, said that taxpayers have footed at least $1.2 million for the probe.
Lavine said he will speak to committee members about whether to do so, and will decide once Cuomo resigns. “I expect there will be a full report,” he said.
With reporting from The Associated Press