Following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as evidence that his administration may have mishandled or hidden data regarding COVID-19 deaths at New York nursing homes, two state investigations have been launched to examine the claims. Since many state lawmakers have already called for Cuomo to resign over the scandals, it’s possible that the probes will ultimately lead to an effort by the State Legislature to impeach the governor and remove him from office. Cuomo has denied engaging in any misconduct and refused to step down. Below is an overview of the investigations as they stand, the impeachment process, and how everything might play out.
Two accusers say they will not cooperate with the Assembly inquiry
On March 17, former Cuomo aide and current Manhattan borough president candidate Lindsey Boylan said she would not cooperate with the impeachment probe being conducted by the State Assembly.
“What would be the point of survivors talking to investigators of your sham investigation,” she tweeted, tagging Assembly speaker Carl Heasite. “I am in conversation with other women who have no interest in your corrupt, cynical ‘investigation.’ Hard pass.” Earlier that day, Heastie announced that the law firm Davis Polk and Wardell LLP had been hired to lead the impeachment investigation. There are concerns that this may be a conflict of interest, as New York’s Nia Prater notes: “The current chief judge on the Court of Appeals, Janet DiFiore, is married to Dennis Glazer, who previously worked for Davis Polk. DiFiore was nominated to that position by Cuomo in 2015.”
Boylan, however, is cooperating with Attorney General Letitia James’s inquiry, and her attorney states that she has already been interviewed by James’s office.
On March 23, Ana Liss told the New York Post in an email that she “cannot confidently participate knowing about the controversial ties, lack of transparency, politicization, and non-participation on behalf of my fellow accusers whose claims are more egregious/explicit than mine.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Liss alleged that Cuomo “asked her if she had a boyfriend, called her sweetheart, touched her on her lower back at a reception and once kissed her hand when she rose from her desk.” Similar to Boylan, Liss has already spoken with investigators with Attorney General James’s office.
The attorney general’s investigation
New York attorney general Letitia James has launched an independent investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo which have been made by multiple former aides. The attorney general’s office asked the governor’s office to preserve all documents related to the matter, and James has named former acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne L. Clark to lead the probe. Both have pledged to conduct a thorough and rigorous investigation into the allegations.
It’s not clear how long the investigation will take.
The investigators met with one of Cuomo’s accusers, Charlotte Bennett, on March 15:
The governor’s office initially tried to start its own “outside review” of the allegations, but that plan was roundly criticized and rejected by state lawmakers.
The State Assembly Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation
On March 12, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that he had authorized the Assembly Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment probe into Governor Cuomo. The Committee has the power to subpoena documents and witnesses, and can determine, on its own, the scope of the investigation. Heastie has said that the impeachment investigation will be “very broad” and indicated there would be no set timeline for its conclusion, but that the probe “should be done expeditiously.” On March 17, Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Lavine announced that the Assembly had hired the Davis Polk law firm, including lawyers Angela Burgess, Greg Andres, and Martine Beamon, to assist with the probe.
In addition to investigating the allegations of sexual harassment made against Cuomo by multiple women, the Committee’s probe is expected to look into how the Cuomo administration handled COVID deaths in New York nursing homes during the first wave of the pandemic, and may also investigate questions about how the administration handled potential structural defects on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge during its construction, as well as how and why the administration’s “vaccine czar” conducted political outreach on Cuomo’s behalf to county officials amid the current crisis.
The results of the attorney general’s parallel investigation in the sexual harassment allegations will undoubtedly be factored into the Judiciary Committee’s investigation, meaning it won’t conclude until after the AG probe does.
There are also indications, however, that Assembly Democrats are far from united with regards to how to proceed — with some fearing that a lengthy investigation into Cuomo’s conduct will enable the governor to avoid accountability, according to Yahoo News.
The FBI investigation
In addition to the attorney general’s probe and the state Assembly’s impeachment inquiry, Cuomo’s office is also reportedly facing an investigation into the alleged cover-up of nursing home deaths at the beginning of the pandemic. According to a report from the City on March 18, FBI officials are looking to interview administration staff about a last-minute addition to the state budget last March, which gave nursing homes and hospital sweeping legal protections against lawsuits and criminal liability for care provided during the pandemic. Investigators are reportedly asking how it “got in the state budget,” according to one legislative source.
The impeachment process in New York State
Like in the federal government, the impeachment process begins in the lower house of the State Legislature — the 150-member State Assembly. Per the New York State Constitution, an impeachment resolution in the Assembly would require a simple majority, or 76 votes, to pass. Should that happen, the process moves on to the 63-member State Senate, where a Court for the Trial of Impeachments is convened, consisting of the lieutenant governor, all state senators, and the seven judges from the state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.
When the governor is impeached, the lieutenant governor (Kathy Hochul, in this case) temporarily becomes the acting governor for the duration of the trial, and is excluded from participating in the trial, along with the president pro tempore of the Senate (currently majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins) — since both are in the line of succession for the governor’s office. That would leave 69 members in the Court for the trial, and a two-thirds majority, or 46 votes, would be needed to convict and remove the governor from office. The same number of votes would be required to ban the governor from ever holding elected office in the state again.
The governor would be able to retain his own counsel to represent him in the impeachment trial.
How might the impeachment process play out against Cuomo?
Once the Assembly Judiciary Committee completes its investigation of Governor Cuomo, it could release a report containing its findings and/or go ahead and draft articles of impeachment against him. There are currently 106 Democrats and 43 Republicans serving in the Assembly (along with one Independent). If a resolution to impeach Cuomo were to attract bipartisan support, 33 Democrats would need to join all Assembly Republicans for it to pass. Without GOP support, 76 Assembly Democrats would need to back impeachment.
At least 40 Democratic Assembly members have already called for Cuomo to resign, but only a handful have said they also want to impeach him. Assembly Republicans recently drafted a resolution on their own to impeach Cuomo over the nursing-home data scandal and sexual harassment allegations, and a spokesperson for the minority told WNYC nearly all GOP members said they would support it (and at least 38 Assembly Republicans have signaled they want Cuomo to resign in light of the scandals).
In the State Senate, at least 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans have called for Cuomo to resign, but as in the Assembly, it’s not clear how many would also support removing him should they get the opportunity.
It is not clear how long the Judiciary Committee’s investigation will take, so it’s currently not possible to speculate on any timetable for when the impeachment process, should there be one, would begin.
What constitutes an impeachable offense in New York?
The New York State Constitution, unlike the U.S. Constitution, doesn’t stipulate what a state officeholder can be impeached for — leaving that judgment entirely up to the State Legislature.
Is there any chance Cuomo will resign?
There is currently next to no chance of that, at least for the foreseeable future. He has adamantly refused to resign, attacked those who have called on him to do so, and seems, at least for now, fully intent on riding out the crisis (and more likely than not, running for a fourth term when he is up for reelection next year). He has asked lawmakers and the public to withhold judgment until after the probe the attorney general ordered has been completed, and has made it clear he believes that investigation will reveal he did not do what his accusers have alleged. In addition, recent polls have shown that a majority of Democratic voters in the state continue to support the governor, even amid the scandals.
It’s possible Cuomo’s calculus on resignation could change, but he’s staying put in the meantime.
Who replaces Cuomo if he is impeached and removed, or resigns?
If Cuomo steps down or is removed from office via impeachment, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would become governor and serve out the remainder of his term (and be able to appoint a new lieutenant governor to serve out the rest of her term). Hochul would then be up for reelection (and face possible primary challenges from other Democrats) in 2022.
What happens if he is impeached and aquitted?
Nothing, legally. Cuomo would regain his powers as governor, and Kathy Hochul would return to serving as lieutenant governor. Impeachment would undoubtedly come with a high political cost for Cuomo, however, and significantly reduce his chances at winning a fourth term in office, should he opt to run for reelection next year.
Would impeaching Cuomo have an impact on the state’s COVID response?
If the threat of impeachment grows, it’s possible Cuomo and his advisers will argue that moving forward with the process will hamper the state’s effort to recover from the pandemic. It’s far from clear if that would actually be the case, however. During the impeachment trial — and after, if Cuomo is removed — running the state and COVID response would fall to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, an experienced public servant who appears to be widely respected by state and local officials. Many of the lawmakers who have called for Cuomo to resign or temporarily step aside have already expressed their faith that Hochul would be a more than suitable replacement.
Has a New York governor ever been removed?
William Sulzer has the rare distinction of being the only governor of New York to ever be impeached and removed by the State Legislature. In 1913, after less than ten months in office, Sulzer was impeached for campaign finance violations and removed following a three-week trial. According to historians, the impeachment came after Sulzer was targeted by the powerful and infamously corrupt Tammany Hall political organization after Sulzer attempted to limit the organization’s influence in state government.
Nationwide, just 16 governors have been impeached in U.S. history, with eight being subsequently convicted and removed from office.