The speaker of the New York Assembly on Thursday authorized an impeachment investigation into allegations of misconduct by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been the subject of multiple sexual harassment claims in recent weeks.
The probe was set in motion hours after more than 50 Democratic state lawmakers, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the National Organization for Women demanded Cuomo resign.
Enough Democratic Assembly members signed on to that demand to impeach Cuomo with the support of Republican lawmakers if he refuses, as he has for the past week.
“The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious,” said Speaker Carl Heastie, who like Cuomo is a Democrat.
Heastie, who represents a Bronx district, said that the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee “will have the authority to interview witnesses, subpoena documents and evaluate evidence, as is allowed by the New York State Constitution.”
“I have the utmost faith that Assembly member [Charles] Lavine [the Judiciary chairman] and the members of the committee will conduct an expeditious, full and thorough investigation.”
Only one New York governor has ever been impeached: William “Plain Bill” Sulzer, who was removed from office in 1913 after allegations of fraud in campaign contributions.
Heastie said that the Cuomo impeachment inquiry “will not interfere with the independent investigation being conducted by Attorney General” Letitia James.
James, in her own statement on Heastie’s announcement, said, “Today’s action by the New York state legislature will have no bearing on our independent investigation into these allegations against Governor Cuomo.”
“Our investigation will continue,” said James, who earlier in the week appointed former acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne Clark to lead that probe.
The developments came a day after an Albany newspaper reported that a member of the Cuomo’s staff had accused him of aggressively groping her in the governor’s mansion last year.
An Albany Police Department spokesman told The New York Times later Thursday that the department had received a report from a state official about that allegation, and that police since have reached out to offer their services to a representative for that woman, “as we would do with any other report or incident.”
The spokesman said that referral of the incident did not mean police had opened a criminal probe.
Before Wednesday’s report, three former Cuomo aides, as well as several other women, already had accused him of sexual harassment, or of making inappropriate comments and physical contact.
The attorneys appointed by James to investigation the women’s allegations on Thursday set up a web site, https://www.agindependentinvestigation.com, with a voicemail, email, and text number for potential victims to contact them.
“It’s deeply troubling,” de Blasio, a frequent antagonist of Cuomo, said during a news conference, referring to the latest claim.
“The specific allegation that the governor called an employee of his, someone who he had power over, called them to a private place and then sexually assaulted her is absolutely unacceptable to me,” said de Blasio, who is himself a Democrat.
“It is disgusting to me, and he can no longer serve as governor.”
Christian Nunes, president of the National Association of Women, in a scathing statement said that Cuomo “is unfit to serve as the leader of his state for another day.”
“The National Organization for Women (NOW) stands with the brave women who have shared the abuse they suffered at the hands of Andrew Cuomo, Nunes said. “They came forward despite a society that favors the accused over the accuser – particularly if they are in positions of power. “
Heastie, in a statement earlier Thursday said, “In light of allegations concerning the Governor over the last several weeks, I will be meeting with members in conference today on potential paths forward.”
Heastie last week had said that he shared the “sentiment” expressed by state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins after that Democrat called on Cuomo to resign.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, during an interview on the ABC program “The View,” said: “The allegations of these women are very, very troubling. The one last night was particularly nauseating. They all must be looked into.”
But Schumer stopped short of calling on Cuomo to step down, instead saying he had confidence in James, the attorney general, to “turn over every stone” in the probe, which is being conducted by a team of private attorneys whom she appointed earlier this week.