ALBANY, N.Y. — With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo set to be questioned on Saturday, investigators appear close to finishing an investigation into the sexual harassment and misconduct allegations that have shadowed him for months.
As Cuomo faces potential impeachment over his behavior, lawmakers who’ve been reserving judgment on his political future are anxiously awaiting a looming report on the investigation’s findings.
The probe overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James, a fellow Democrat, is not a criminal inquiry but it could have significant influence on an impeachment inquiry in the state legislature that could result in the third-term Democrat’s removal from office. Any findings from the investigation that corroborate the allegations could sway impeachment proceedings or add to already sizable pressure for Cuomo to leave voluntarily.
Cuomo, in office since 2011, has rebuffed those calls and is moving forward with plans to run for a fourth term next year. Rivals, though, see a Cuomo weakened by scandal as politically vulnerable.
The timing of Cuomo’s interview with investigators was confirmed Thursday to The Associated Press by two people familiar with the investigation. They were not authorized to speak publicly about the case and did so on condition of anonymity.
Cuomo will be questioned in Albany, the state’s capital, near the end of a four-month process that has included interviews with many of the governor’s accusers and the turning over of documents.
James, who is independently elected and does not report to the governor, hired former Acting U.S Attorney Joon Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne Clark in March to lead the inquiry. Their findings will go in a public report.
Several women have accused Cuomo of unwanted kisses, touches and groping and inappropriate sexual remarks. Former aide Lindsey Boylan said Cuomo once suggested a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet. Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo once asked her if she ever had sex with older men.
Cuomo initially apologized and said that he “learned an important lesson” about his behavior around women and would “fully cooperate” with the investigation. Since then, he’s denied that he did anything wrong and questioned the motivations of accusers and fellow Democrats who’ve called for his resignation.
There is no deadline for completing the investigation. A 2010 probe that Cuomo oversaw as attorney general into his predecessor, Gov. David Paterson, lasted about five months.
The state Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, which is conducting the impeachment inquiry, also has the power to subpoena documents and witness testimony. It could rely on work done by the attorney general’s team of investigators, or gather its own evidence.
The scope of its inquiry goes beyond Cuomo’s conduct with women. The governor is also under fire for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the state’s nursing homes.
The committee’s work could result in the drafting of articles of impeachment against Cuomo, though that outcome is far from certain.
New York’s process for impeaching and removing a governor from office has some parallels — and some important differences — to the process the U.S. Congress uses for impeaching presidents.
Like at the federal level, New York impeachments start in a lower house of the legislature — in this case, the Assembly. If a majority of members vote to impeach Cuomo, a trial on his removal from office would be held in what’s known as the Impeachment Court consisting of members of the state Senate and the seven judges of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature.
New York has only impeached a governor once, in 1913, when Gov. William Sulzer was bounced after 289 days in office in what he claimed was retribution for turning his back on New York City’s powerful Tammany Hall Democratic machine.
If Cuomo were impeached by the Assembly, state law might force him to step aside at least temporarily. If Cuomo were to be acquitted in an impeachment court, he would return to office.
If the Impeachment Court were to remove him from office, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would serve out the remainder of Cuomo’s term — through the end of 2022.
The court could also opt to disqualify Cuomo from holding office in the future, on top of removing him.
Sisak reported from Port St. Lucie, Florida. Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed from Washington, D.C.