ALBANY – The state Assembly committee in charge of the impeachment investigation of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday notified the besieged governor that he has until a week from Friday to submit any additional evidence.
The panel is wrapping up work that is expected to lead to an impeachment vote by the full Assembly in early September.
Cuomo is under fire for allegedly sexually harassing 11 young female state employees as laid out in a report from State Attorney General Letitia James. Whether he resigns before a looming impeachment vote happens is known only by one person: Cuomo.
Cuomo, 63, on Thursday watched for another day as longtime supporters and others demanded his resignation to let Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul fill out the rest of his term that runs through 2022. For at least part of the day, he was believed holed up, again, in the Executive Mansion in downtown Albany near the Capitol.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee’s outside counsel, David Polk, wrote to Cuomo’s lawyer Thursday saying that its investigation is “nearing completion” and that the governor has until 5 p.m. Aug. 13 to submit any last documents or evidence for the committee to consider. The committee had previously subpoenaed Cuomo for a range of records.
The committee, headed by Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Long Island Democrat and seasoned attorney, is set to meet in public Monday morning in Albany to discuss the situation.
Cuomo has said he won't resign, and his senior adviser, Richard Azzopardi, said Thursday that the Assembly has said it wants to do a "full and thorough review" of the allegations against Cuomo and has offered the governor the opportunity to present materials and his perspective on the matter. "The governor appreciates the opportunity. We will be cooperating," the spokesman said.
If Cuomo doesn't resign, the state impeachment process is a near certainty. That leads to many questions.
Is this a first?
Cuomo would be the second. William Sulzer, the state’s 39th governor, was impeached in 1913. Sulzer was a former member of the Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives and was politically propped up by the corrupt Tammany Hall wing of the Democratic Party. After becoming governor, he split with them; they then helped bring evidence that he falsified campaign documents and pushed the impeachment vote.
Some historians say Sulzer’s impeachment was legally questionable. After being impeached in the Assembly and convicted in a special impeachment court, Sulzer would soon be reelected to his old Assembly seat. No one is making any comeback claims for Cuomo; indeed, the State Senate would have the option of not just convicting Cuomo and ousting him from office, but adopting a resolution barring him from future public offices in New York.
How does the impeachment process start?
The process already started in March when the Assembly Judiciary Committee was charged with running an impeachment probe. Its subject areas include not just the sexual harassment allegations, but whether Cuomo used state resources to write a book about the pandemic that led to a $5.1 million book deal, as well as questions about his handling of Covid cases in nursing homes and evidence that he sharply undercounted how many nursing home residents died from Covid in 2020.
The Judiciary Committee, composed of both Democrats and Republicans in an Assembly dominated by Democrats, have held a few brief public sessions before breaking and going into private executive sessions to hear updates from their private law firm investigators. The committee, after the deadline for Cuomo’s response, then will write a report outlining its findings. From there, articles of impeachment will be drawn up; those would then be presented to the full Assembly for a vote.
How would impeachment on the Assembly floor work?
A presentation would be made by the committee and/or its lawyers. Witnesses are not expected during the full Assembly gathering, though some say Cuomo could himself ask to address the lawmakers, a decision that would be up to the Assembly to decide. But it won’t resemble a criminal or civil court trial. It will, in the end, be heavily dominated by lawmakers rising to speak in a process that will take many hours.
When might all this happen?
The committee is expected to wrap up its work later this month and a vote could occur in early September, perhaps, though not likely, even before then.
So if the Assembly impeaches him, he’s gone?
Not exactly. Upon a simple majority vote of the 150 members, Cuomo would be temporarily removed from office and Hochul would become acting governor. Next, it’s the turn of the 63-member State Senate.
The Senate would be trial court of impeachment. Senators would serve, in essences, as jurors, as would the members of the state Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York whose judges were all nominated by Cuomo for their jobs. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, as well as Hochul, would be barred from serving on the court because they are in the gubernatorial line of succession. The court has broad authority to create its own rules – for things like taking evidence or testimony or just how the proceedings are run. A presiding judge could be the state’s chief judge or a different judge or even a senator under one reading of the laws.
What’s the Senate timetable?
If the Assembly impeaches, the clock starts from when the articles of impeachment are delivered to the Senate: A trial must, by law, be held “at the Capitol in the city of Albany” no sooner than 30 days later and no more than 60 days thereafter, with 20 days from the day of delivery to the Senate for Cuomo to respond. That would bring the whole matter into the early fall before resolution. Two-thirds “of the members present” in the Senate’s trial would be needed to convict Cuomo.
What are the legal guidelines for all this?
“Impeachments are political and governmental at the same time," said one lawmaker familiar with the process who spoke on condition of anonymity. There are no specific Assembly or Senate rules to specifically guide impeachment. But there are fundamental provisions in the state Constitution and in the state’s judiciary law. For instance, the Senate trial court shall be composed of “the Senate, the senators, or the major part of them, and the judges of the Court of Appeals, or the major part of them.” Members of the court must take an oath that they will “impartially” try the impeachment according to the evidence presented them.
If convicted, Cuomo is permanently ousted and Hochul’s “acting governor” title loses the word “acting” and she would serve through 2022. The next general election for governor is November 2022. Through the end of the term, Stewart-Cousins would serve as de facto acting lieutenant governor and head of the Senate; she would, for instance, legally be considered governor if Hochul dies or if Hochul leaves the state. Hochul could, alternatively, select someone to serve as lieutenant governor.
Why go through this time-consuming process?
That’s a question many lawmakers are asking each other in private conversations. They say the allegations against Cuomo have been thoroughly investigated and are credible. Moreover, they say there is important work – dealing with rising Covid cases, a still-battered economy in many sectors as just two examples – that aren’t being adequately addressed by the distracted Cuomo.
Some are ready to return to Albany right away to impeach Cuomo. But, there are due process rights and there is a specific process laid out for ousting a governor via impeachment, others argue. The Assembly perhaps could legally just rush into session and impeach Cuomo, which would force him to temporarily step down while awaiting the timetable to play out for a trial in the Senate. But some lawmakers, mindful of the controversy over the process in which Sulzer was impeached, want a measured, deliberative approach that seeks to advance what they say will be a legally and politically credible case against Cuomo.
So, one can just read through the historical documents of the 1913 Sulzer impeachment to understand how a Cuomo impeachment would work?
Yes, and no. The key differences: There is no Tammany Hall political structure in place and people aren’t demonstrating in front of the governor’s mansion cheering on their support for Cuomo, as Sulzer witnessed. Also, the concept of due process has evolved in the past century so that, political pressure aside, some lawmakers want to try to play by some set of informed rules – even if most of the Legislature is already calling for Cuomo to quit or they will oust him.
Any quirks or twists in the process?
Many. But here is one, per state law: Senators participating in an impeachment trial of Cuomo would be entitled to receive a salary at the same rate as paid to associate judges on the Court of Appeals. The base pay for senators now is $110,000. Associate justices’ salaries: $233,400. How long a trial might take is anyone’s guess. The extra compensation goes to senators – not Assembly members – only if “a session” of the Legislature is not underway. The session ended in June, but the Legislature never technically gavels out of session, requiring a senator and Assembly member every couple or few days to go to the Capitol, slam the gavel, say the pledge of allegiance and then hit the gavel again.
Will Cuomo be governor much longer?
In the wake of Attorney General Letitia James’ damaging report, he has seen the loss of support from key and potent groups, unions, the public and elected officials, including President Biden. But Hochul is not measuring the window treatments just yet at the Executive Mansion. On Thursday morning, those window shades at the mansion that were visible from the street on the building’s second and third floor living areas were all closed shut.