There are 18 million reasons why a state Assembly committee should have pursued impeachment charges against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
That number, $18 million, is the amount of campaign contributions Cuomo gets to keep even after his resignation as governor later this month amid overwhelming proof that he sexually harassed 11 women and a host of other allegations.
The money, the largest pot of campaign cash in New York politics, can be used for a number of purposes, including a fourth run for governor.
The Assembly could have barred Cuomo from running for governor again or any other public office in New York if it had impeached him.
But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) announced Friday that the impeachment investigation will be suspended once Cuomo steps down
Heastie cited an opinion by state Assemblyman Charles Lavine, the North Shore Democrat leading the impeachment investigation as chair of the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, that the state Constitution “does not authorize the Legislature to impeach and remove an elected official who is no longer in office.”
This is virtually the same argument used by Senate Republicans during the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
On its face, it is a ludicrous – no matter what the law says – to allow any elected official to escape accountability simply by resigning.
This is akin to allowing white-collar criminals to escape prosecution for embezzling funds by quitting their jobs. And it makes a mockery of the idea of equal justice under the law.
The Senate Democrats moved ahead with Trump’s impeachment after lawyers ruled that the Senate could impeach an elected official who is no longer in office. But Senate Republicans used the argument to vote against impeachment.
What could be wrong with that?
Well, since the Senate failed to hold Trump accountable he has persisted in undermining Americans’ belief in democracy by continuing to spread the Big Lie that the last presidential election was stolen from him, which has been used as a pretext by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country to pass legislation to suppress voter turnout and subvert future elections.
And Trump says he is considering another run for president.
That Heastie and his fellow Democrats are suspending the impeachment hearing on just the opinion of a single legislator is an awfully thin reed on which to base such an important decision.
Why not move ahead and let Cuomo challenge the impeachment proceedings? Or why not seek outside counsel not tied to the election fortunes of Democrats in the Legislature?
And if the state Constitution does not allow elected officials who resign to be impeached – and lose their pensions – why not move to amend the state Constitution to prevent this from ever happening again?
Heastie said he expected that the committee’s probe would spell more bad news for Cuomo had it continued.
Investigators unearthed “credible evidence in relation to allegations that have been made in reference to the governor,” including his administration’s handling of data about COVID-19 in nursing homes and his use of state resources to publish his memoir about the pandemic in addition to the well-documented sexual harassment accusations that were central to his downfall.
Facing a public backlash, the Heastie reversed course to continue investigating Cuomo.
We find it difficult to understand how he thought New York taxpayers did not have the right to know the truth about how the state government has run and voters know more fully about Cuomo?
Heastie said he asked Lavine to hand over the Judiciary Committee’s findings to local, state and federal prosecutors who are investigating the allegations against Cuomo.
But the speaker at first did not say whether the Assembly would release a public report outlining what its investigators found — a step some lawmakers said was necessary. He later relented and agreed to make public the committee’s incomplete work.
A continued investigation can also answer the question of whether Cuomo actually did something impeachable. At least by the standards of the state Assembly.
Cuomo himself does not appear to believe he did anything wrong.
In announcing his resignation, Cuomo said he was a victim of a “politically motivated” controversy, suggesting that he was stepping aside to end a distraction for the state.
This noble act of self-sacrifice, at least in the governor’s mind, could easily be part of a speech announcing his plans to run again.
Cuomo went on to excuse his behavior based on changing attitudes.
“In my mind I’ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” the governor said. “There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate. And I should have. No excuses.”
If chutzpah was an Olympic event, Cuomo would have won a gold medal with this one.
For one, it was Cuomo, a former state attorney general, who routinely touted the sexual harassment reforms he signed in 2019 that among other things require every business in New York state to teach where the line is drawn.
For another, there was Cuomo’s conduct outlined in James’ 164-page report.
“As Trooper #1, Senior Investigator #1, and the Governor were riding the elevator up, the Governor placed his finger on top of her neck, and ran his finger down the center of her spine midway down her back, and said to Trooper #1, ‘Hey, you,” according to the report.
On another occasion at Belmont, Cuomo, 62, ran his hand from the middle of the young woman’s stomach to her hip, according to the report.
Exactly when was that considered acceptable behavior by an executive. Or the governor?
We would like to hear from Cuomo on when that type of behavior was acceptable.
The state Assembly’s abdication of its responsibility to pursue the impeachment probe is even more worrisome in light of Cuomo’s history, including his handling of the Moreland Commission to investigate what Cuomo himself called the “politics of corruption” in Albany.
A story by Ronan Farrow in this week’s New Yorker magazine details how Cuomo pressured members of the commission – including then Nassau County District Attorney and current Congresswoman Kathleen Rice – to stay away from people and groups that contributed money to him or supported his agenda.
Rice and a former assistant U.S. attorney on the commission, for the first time, speak about the repeated threats she received for political retribution if she did not stop investigating certain people and groups.
Farrow also reports that after Cuomo abruptly ended the commission halfway through its 18-month term he attempted to interfere with investigations undertaken by then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara using information gathered by the Moreland Commission.
This included investigations into Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, both of whom were later convicted of political corruption.
Cuomo, according to the story, called the Obama administration to demand that Bharara be reined in and more recently urged the Biden administration to oppose Bharara as a candidate for attorney general.
The New Yorker account dovetails neatly with the accounts of Cuomo’s efforts to undermine the women coming forward to make sexual harassment complaints against Cuomo.
It also raises questions of just what Cuomo intends to do with the $18 million in campaign contributions he controls and his freedom to run for office.
And why the state Assembly is not doing more.
The public needs answers about Cuomo’s actions and the Assembly Democrats’ shameful refusal to provide them.