Facing loss of supporters, Cuomo gains attention from prosecutors
By Michael Gold and Jonah E. Bromwich
A day after the release of a devastating report concluding that he had sexually harassed 11 women, Gov. Andrew Cuomo found himself increasingly isolated this week, with his most loyal supporters abandoning him and four prosecutors saying they would investigate his behavior.
Several unions that had long been aligned with Cuomo withdrew their support Wednesday. Two past members of his administration — including a former legal adviser who had been consulted in the governor’s strategic meetings on how to fight the accusations — asked him to resign.
By late afternoon, Cuomo had lost the backing of perhaps his closest political ally, Jay Jacobs, head of the state’s Democratic Party, who has been the governor’s staunchest defender in recent months. In a statement, Jacobs said that the governor’s removal from office was “inevitable,” and that Cuomo’s refusal to step down ran counter to Jacobs’ advice.
“The governor has lost his ability to govern, both practically and morally,” said Jacobs, who was hand-picked by Cuomo for the job in 2019.
The defection of Jacobs emphasized Cuomo’s political exile as he faces the biggest challenge of his career: survival in the face of growing public opposition to his continued leadership.
Cuomo was in Albany, New York, Wednesday, remaining out of public view. He gave no response to the disclosure that prosecutors in Manhattan and Albany had already opened criminal investigations, and prosecutors in Westchester and Nassau counties asked the attorney general’s office for investigative materials, or to the news that one of his accusers intended to file a lawsuit against him. (Wednesday evening, Syracuse.com reported that the Oswego County prosecutor, Greg Oakes, would request materials related to one of the accusations made in the report.)
A lawyer for the governor on Tuesday called the report “unfair,” “inaccurate” and “utterly biased.” Asked Wednesday about the criminal investigations and the defection of some allies, a spokesperson for the governor referred back to Cuomo’s videotaped address from Tuesday, in which he denied any wrongdoing.
The mounting legal troubles and political aftershocks deepened the crisis confronting the governor, and increased scrutiny and pressure on the state Assembly, which is in the midst of a sprawling impeachment investigation.
The inquiry’s slow start earlier this year appeared to offer Cuomo a chance to bide his time, with any prolonged delay seemingly aiding his chances at reelection next year. But state Assembly members said this week that the cache of witness interviews, documents and other evidence assembled by the attorney general’s investigators provided new urgency.
Several members of the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, which is conducting the investigation, said that they expected the pace of the inquiry would quicken in the wake of the report, particularly after the attorney general, Letitia James, said she would provide her team’s assembled evidence to the Assembly.
The committee is reconvening Monday morning, with members expected to review the progress of the investigation, which is being conducted by outside lawyers.
So far, the lawyers have questioned or requested interviews with senior administration officials, according to three people with knowledge of the investigation. They have also collected communications and have begun looking into particular conversations among top officials, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.
Still, some of the information in the attorney general’s report was new to those familiar with the impeachment investigation, including the account of a state trooper assigned to Cuomo’s protective detail who said the governor inappropriately touched her while she was on duty.
Some Assembly members said the account appeared to push some of their colleagues toward calling for the governor’s resignation.
After it launched, the impeachment investigation landed on four main focal points: the sexual harassment allegations; Cuomo’s handling of nursing home data during the pandemic; whether he used state resources to write his pandemic memoir; and whether the administration covered up potential structural problems on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
Assembly member Michael Montesano, the committee’s ranking Republican member, said Wednesday that the committee had “been redirecting our resources” away from the bridge allegations to other areas, believing them to be more productive.
Tom Abinanti, a Democratic member of the committee, said he expected Assembly members would discuss whether to continue investigating all four areas, particularly in the wake of the attorney general’s report.
But the committee and its lawyers, he said, would also need to take time to review the attorney general’s report, the corroborating evidence and the governor’s rebuttal.
Abinanti and another Democratic committee member, Assembly member Catalina Cruz, said that the committee was unlikely to move to the next step until it was convinced it could draft articles of impeachment that would withstand a legal challenge from the governor’s team.
If Cuomo is impeached, he will be expected to step aside, with the state Constitution suggesting the lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, serve as acting governor until the end of the process.
The state Senate would be required to start a trial within 30 to 60 days of receiving articles of impeachment.
Unlike in a federal impeachment trial, which is decided by the U.S. Senate, the jury in a New York trial includes all but one state senator and the seven members of New York’s Court of Appeals, the highest state court. (In presidential impeachments, members of the judiciary do not vote.)
The Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, is forbidden by the state Constitution from voting on the jury because she is in the line of succession. A two-thirds majority — 46 votes — would be required to convict and remove Cuomo from office.
The Assembly’s investigation has proceeded separately from the one conducted by James’ office, which substantiated 11 women’s accusations that Cuomo had made inappropriate physical contact, including groping, and inappropriate comments. The report suggested the governor’s denials were inconsistent with evidence and, at times, contrived.
The report’s level of detail and the clarity with which it was presented swayed some Cuomo supporters who had initially urged restraint as the investigation was proceeding.
On Wednesday, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said that it was “grateful” for Cuomo’s past achievements but thought he needed to step down. D.C. 37, New York City’s largest public employees union, said the governor “was no longer fit to serve.”
Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, the majority leader of the state Assembly, was one of Cuomo’s vocal defenders against calls for his resignation in March. She told a reporter on Wednesday that the governor’s ability to govern had been compromised and that she thought he should resign.
Others in Albany agreed. Assembly member John T. McDonald III, who previously said he was waiting to see the report before weighing in on resignation, said Wednesday that he was swayed by the caliber of the investigators and the consistency of the 11 women’s stories.
“You could tell yesterday that these investigators, they did their job,” said McDonald, who called on Cuomo to resign before the governor’s videotaped address had finished.
He added that he was particularly struck by the report’s detailed description of a toxic and unprofessional workplace culture inside Cuomo’s office, including retaliation for speaking up.
Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former chief deputy to Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in an interview Wednesday that Vance would have jurisdiction to look into any crimes committed in the borough within the statute of limitations.
“All it requires is a victim to come forward and make a report,” Agnifilo said.