The New York Assembly is launching an impeachment probe into Governor Andrew Cuomo days after a sixth woman came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D – Bronx) gave his chamber’s judiciary committee the green light to open a probe into Cuomo on Thursday amid mounting calls for the governor to resign.
‘The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious,’ Heastie said in a statement. ‘The 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 the committee will conduct an expeditious, full and thorough investigation.’
He noted that the probe will not interfere with an independent investigation already underway by Attorney General Letitia James.
Heastie’s announcement came as a group of 59 Democrats in New York’s Senate and Assembly released a statement on Thursday demanding that Cuomo resign because he has ‘lost the confidence of the public and the state legislature’.
The group of 19 senators and 40 Assembly members called for Cuomo – who has repeatedly said he will not resign – to be replaced by Lt Gov Kathy Hochul in the interests of ‘the future of New York State’.
In addition to the sexual harassment allegations, the letter also mentioned allegations that Cuomo sought to cover up COVID-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes after a directive meant infected patients were sent back to facilities at the peak of the crisis.
Impeaching Cuomo in the Assembly would require 76 votes. If the 40 Democrats who signed the letter joined with all 43 Republicans, they would meet the threshold to send the case to an impeachment court made up of senators and state appeals court judges.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longstanding rival of the governor’s, joined calls for him to resign on Thursday, saying ‘he can no longer serve as governor’ amid the ‘disgusting’ allegations.
The increased pressure on Cuomo followed the emergence of a sixth accuser earlier this week.
In what is the most damning accusation leveled at Cuomo to date, the woman, a former aide who has not been named, claimed he called her to his Executive Mansion in Albany last year, saying he needed help fixing his cellphone.
The pair were alone together on the second level of the residence when the woman said Cuomo closed the door, reached under her blouse and fondled her before she told him to stop.
A female supervisor in Cuomo’s office first became aware of the aide’s allegations on March 3, when the governor, following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, issued a televised statement denying touching anyone inappropriately
The aide reportedly became emotional during the governor’s address, which the supervisor noticed. The women then told the supervisor about her alleged encounter with the governor months earlier.
The three-term New York governor faces harassment allegations from five other women, including former aide Charlotte Bennett.
The 25-year-old’s attorney, Debra Katz, said in a statement released Wednesday evening that the latest allegations are ‘eerily similar’ to Bennett’s own story.
Bennett has said she was summoned to the Capitol on a weekend and left alone with Cuomo, who asked her for help with his cellphone. She has said Cuomo asked about her sex life and propositioned her.
At least five accusers – Bennett, Lindsey Boylan, Anna Liss, Karen Hinton and the unnamed woman – worked for the governor in Albany or during his time in President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet. Another, Anna Ruch, told The New York Times that she met Cuomo at a friend’s wedding.
Cuomo has denied inappropriately touching anyone, but said he is sorry if he made anyone uncomfortable and didn’t intend to do so.
‘As I said yesterday, I have never done anything like this. The details of this report are gut-wrenching,’ Cuomo said through a spokesperson Wednesday evening.
‘I am not going to speak to the specifics of this or any other allegation given the ongoing review, but I am confident in the result of the Attorney General’s report.’
The Albany Police Department on Thursday confirmed that it had been formally notified by Cuomo’s office over the sixth accuser’s claims, which it said may have ‘risen to the level of a crime‘.
A spokesperson for the department, Steve Smith, said that police had not received a formal complaint from the alleged victim, but they have reached out to a representative for her.
This doesn’t mean police have opened a criminal investigation, rather that the department has offered its services to the woman, ‘as we would any other report or incident’, Smith said.
Albany PD said it received the referral from a state official on Wednesday night, shortly after an article was published in the Times Union that detailed the woman’s accusations.
Smith told the New York Times that the call alerting Albany PD to the latest allegation against Cuomo had initially come from the New York State Police.
However, in a statement, Cuomo’s acting counsel, Beth Garvey, confirmed it was her who had contacted authorities after a lawyer for the female aide told the governor’s office that the aide did not want to file a report.
‘As a matter of state policy, when allegations of physical contact are made, the agency informs the complainant that they should contact their local police department,’ Garvey clarified.
‘If they decline, the agency has an obligation to reach out themselves and inform the department of the allegation.’
‘In this case, the person is represented by counsel and when counsel confirmed the client did not want to make a report, the state notified the police department and gave them the attorney’s information.’
While the police department is just following standard procedure by reaching out to the alleged victim, the situation could quickly lead to potential criminal exposure for Cuomo, should the woman wish to pursue charges for unwanted touching.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan waded in on the scandal on Wednesday, tweeting a statement affirming that any other potential victims who wish to come forward will be properly assisted by police.
‘The act of speaking out after being victimized can be a deeply painful and traumatic experience,’ Sheehan wrote.
‘The young woman reference in recent reports has the right to determine who she speaks to regarding her experience and when.
‘The Attorney General has commenced an investigation into previous allegations against the Governor, and I have the utmost confidence in her ability to investigate this latest report.
She continued: ‘At this time no criminal complaint involving this matter has been file by the victim with the Albany Police Department, but Chief Hawkins assured me this evening that APD stands ready to assist any victim who seeks to come forward.’
De Blasio also sounded off earlier on Thursday and directly called for Cuomo to resign.
‘The latest report, and the fact that we can talk about how many people have been come forward with accusations. It’s not one, it’s not two, it’s not three, it’s not four, it’s not five – it’s six women who have come forward,’ the mayor said.
‘It’s deeply troubling, the specific allegation that the governor called an employee of his – someone who he had power over – he called them to a place and then sexually assaulted her is absolutely unacceptable.
‘It’s is disgusting to me,’ de Blasio continued. ‘He can no longer serve as governor. It’s as simple as that.’
De Blasio said his stance was compounded ‘so many troubling things’ that have come out about Cuomo in recent weeks, including his handling of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes.
‘We still don’t have the truth about that,’ he said of nursing home deaths. ‘And their families need and deserve to know the truth.
‘We know one thing: We know there was a purposeful cover-up and that alone is unacceptable and disqualifying.
‘These six women have come forward with these powerful and painful stories – and particularly this most recent report is just disqualifying. He just can’t serve as governor anymore,’ de Blasio concluded.
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) addressed the controversy during a radio interview on Thursday and called the latest claim against Cuomo ‘nauseating’ but did not say that he should resign.
Schumer also appeared to accuse Cuomo of withholding pandemic money from New York City in a separate address, while announcing a massive COVID vaccine push in the Big Apple which will see him hand $32 billion allocated for the shots in the COVID relief bill in December straight to Mayor de Blasio.
‘There’s money for the MTA, there’s money for our schools, and there is money for New York City,’ the New York Senator said as he appeared at de Blasio’s press conference.
‘With the mayor’s guidance and a little bit of prodding, we made sure that money doesn’t come through Albany, it goes directly to the city because when Albany gets the money sometimes the city doesn’t see all of it.’