When announcing his upcoming resignation this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo explained that he was only stepping down because the New York Assembly's Judiciary Committee had described "weeks of process that will then lead to months of litigation" while it considered whether to draft articles of impeachment against him. He said the government should be spending that time and money on other matters, like dealing with the pandemic, reopening the economy, and public safety. He added that "wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing."
Cuomo doesn't get to decide whether there will be an impeachment proceeding, however—that's in the hands of the New York Assembly's Judiciary Committee. And while he has resigned, an impeachment would mean he would not be able to run for office again, which some believe he may try to do.
The bipartisan 21-member committee, chaired by Assemblymember Charles Lavine, was already scheduled to meet on Monday, August 16th, at 9:30 a.m. to discuss its investigation into multiple Cuomo controversies. Lavine had suggested earlier this week—if the governor resigned—that an impeachment process would not be necessary because if "he's already out of office, an impeachment itself is going to be moot. It's not going to be meaningful."
However, some members of the Assembly—including those on the Judiciary Committee—want to move forward.
"We still intend to pursue this impeachment because the governor needs to be held accountable for everything that he's done wrong," Assemblymember Michael Montesano, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told Gothamist/WNYC on Wednesday.
Montesano referenced areas of inquiry in addition to Cuomo's sexual misconduct outlined in Attorney General Letitia James' report: "The nursing home deaths of 15,000 people; the altering of the DOH report using government resources; and [state] personnel to write his book. All of these things, [Cuomo] needs to be held accountable for. And the only way we're going to do that is by, you know, moving forward with the impeachment process."
The other Republican members of the Judiciary Committee joined Montesano's perspective and released a statement, "The people of the state of New York deserve a full, public disclosure of the information obtained during our search for the truth."
The Judiciary Committee had retained law firm Davis Polk to lead its investigation, which would include examining all evidence from the AG's report as well as evidence related to the nursing home deaths cover up. Assemblymember David Weprin, a Democrat on the committee, said on Tuesday that he personally felt "it would be a mistake to proceed at this point because he did resign. It’s a large expense to go ahead with an impeachment proceeding that in of itself would be a distraction." Still, Weprin said it would be discussed in the meeting on Monday.
Other State Democrats, most notably from the more progressive wing, have called for the impeachment process to continue. State Senator Julia Salazar said, "The projected costs of doing the people’s work, of doing our jobs as legislators, of continuing the impeachment process, were the same yesterday as they are today. I don’t find this new 'but impeachment uses resources' argument compelling, nor does it seem earnest to me."
Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, one of Cuomo's most vocal critics, added, "Impeachment means New York will not be paying Andrew Cuomo's pension for the rest of his life after his disgusting abuses of power. Impeachment means Governor Cuomo will not be able to run for office again by claiming to be the victim and gaslighting the true victims."
Cuomo's bullying personality surfaced publicly in February while trying to defend his administration's handling of the nursing home deaths cover up, and that moment helped lead to his eventual reckoning.
In February, the governor spent 20 minutes of a press conference trying to belittle Assemblymember Ron Kim, making accusations about his credibility. Kim, in turn, decided he had no choice but to reveal that Cuomo threatened him in a “10-minute, one-sided, screaming and yelling” phone call, with Cuomo telling him that if he "didn’t act in a certain way" and issue a statement, that there would be "retribution."
Kim's account led to others revealing they had been bullied by the governor as well—including ex-Cuomo staffer Lindsey Boylan, who had referenced Cuomo’s behavior in a Tweet in December, but, after hearing Kim come forward, wrote a lengthy Medium post detailing how Cuomo sexually harassed her.
Kim also wants an impeachment proceeding. In an interview with Gothamist/WNYC, he said, "We spent a lot of time, resources and money putting together a case for impeachment, not to get him to resign... We launched impeachment to seek accountability and justice or its wrongdoings. In my opinion, that hasn't changed."
"We haven't had an opportunity to address the nursing home deaths and his decision to suppress [the nursing home] data, while pursuing a lucrative book deal," Kim added. "Fraud is when you're pointing to a deflated number"—the undercounted nursing home deaths—"at multiple press conferences, citing in your book and selling that number to the public. That's fraud that has deep consequences."
"It's important to get a full account of what we did wrong," he stressed. "So we don't repeat those mistakes moving forward."
The New York state constitution, as it happens, does not offer a clear framework for impeachment. Election law attorney Jerry Goldfeder suggested that the Assembly may also not have the legal standing to pursue impeachment. "At this point, it's questionable whether or not the assembly can move forward with an impeachment process [with] a governor who's already resigned," he said. "I know that occurred in the federal scheme against Trump, but we don't have any precedent that I'm aware of here in New York to impeach someone who's gone from office."
When asked whether he feels impeachment should move forward, Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed that there "must be accountability." He acknowledged there are a number of other investigations at the local, state, and federal levels, but he added, "The important thing for the Legislature is to consider is what's the best way to achieve accountability. It would be a huge mistake to leave this chapter and not find out who did it and make sure it never happens again.
The committee will meet on Monday, August 16th.