ALBANY, N.Y. — New York lawmakers will take “months” to investigate the allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo before deciding whether to bring articles of impeachment against the three-term governor.
State Assembly Judiciary Chair Charles Lavine, appearing Tuesday at the first formal meeting to discuss the inquiry, repeatedly promised to ensure “due process“ and said committee members would be “judicious in their pursuit of the truth."
“At this early stage, it’s not possible to say precisely how long this investigation will take,” Lavine (D-Nassau County) said during the virtual meeting. “Given the breadth and seriousness of the issues under investigation, we expect the timing will be in terms of months, rather than weeks.”
Lavine’s committee has been tasked with investigating the myriad allegations levied against Cuomo in recent months and determining whether any of them warrants taking steps toward New York’s first impeachment in more than a century. The committee met on Tuesday to formally introduce Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP as the law firm that will be assisting with the investigation.
Cuomo has been accused of sexual misconduct by numerous current and former aides, with allegations ranging from suggestive questions to claims he groped one employee and kissed another. Several other women have also accused him of inappropriate behavior.
The governor has faced mounting pressure to step down from top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and a majority of the state‘s congressional delegation. New York Attorney General Tish James is also investigating the allegations against Cuomo.
The governor, who said he will not resign but has left open the possibility he does not seek a fourth term, is also embroiled in a controversy over his administration‘s efforts to hide the total number of deaths tied to Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes.
At the hearing Tuesday, Lavine said he took the step of formally warning Cuomo to avoid any actions that might intimidate potential witnesses. The governor’s administration has been criticized for its attempts to attack the credibility of Lindsey Boylan, a former aide who became the first woman to accuse Cuomo of harassment.
“I served on the governor several days ago a notice of nonrelation,” Lavine said. “In other words, putting the governor on notice that he and his employees and allies should take no steps toward intimidating any witness or any potential witness.”
Lawmakers spent most of the meeting asking the attorneys from Davis Polk questions about how they envisioned the investigation proceeding. Attorney Greg Andres said the firm would “use all methods available to us and all tools for gathering information.” That could include conducting interviews, written questions and document requests — potentially made under subpoena, he said.
“In terms of witnesses, we won’t be limited, whether it’s current staff or prior staff … whether they have an official position in the government or otherwise,“ Andres said. “We’ll follow all the leads in our investigation and interview any necessary witnesses.”
The attorneys will update legislators on their investigation “on any basis the committee decides,” Andres said. “We do not anticipate that we are going to do an investigation and go away for X number of months and just provide a report. We understand this process to be iterative and for us to be interacting with the committee on a regular basis.”
Several members asked about the scope of the investigation and what types of allegations might be included. Assemblymember Phil Steck (D-Colonie) specifically asked about alleged informal requirements to “dress a certain way and that being perceived as a vehicle for advancement within the executive chamber,” as well as the issues of retaliating against complainants and a general “hostile work environment.”
“Subject to the committee’s view, we would expect that all three of those subject maters would be part of this investigation,” attorney Martine Beamon said.
Multiple members gave the firm’s attorneys a chance to defend themselves against criticisms that their selection was to laden with conflicts of interest. Cuomo ally Dennis Glazer worked for Davis Polk as recently as 2012, and at least two of the governor’s accusers have argued that this diminishes its credibility as an independent investigator.
“We have a very robust process within Davis Polk for ensuring that for any assignment that we take on, that we do not begin that matter with any conflicts of interest,” attorney Angela Burgess said. “We do a search throughout the firm and through a management committee to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest that would either as a matter of ethics or appearance create an issue. And we embarked on that process here and concluded that there was no conflict.”
“The leading experts have all weighed in,” Lavine said while pointing to a New York Law Journal article on the subject. “There is no conflict of interest here whatsoever.”
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