NEW YORK NOW – Gov. Andrew Cuomo won’t be impeached by the State Assembly for at least a few months, rather than weeks, a lawmaker leading the probe said Tuesday, giving the first indication of a timeline for the rarely-used process.
Assembly Judiciary Chair Charles Lavine, a Democrat, said Tuesday that a law firm retained to handle the investigation is not expected to conclude its work in the next few weeks.
“At this early stage, it’s not possible to say precisely how long this investigation will take,” said Lavine, who added that it would likely be “months, rather than weeks” before the law firm produces a report for the Assembly.
The Assembly has retained the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell to lead its impeachment investigation into Cuomo, who’s been accused by several women over the last month of inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment.
Lavine confirmed that the impeachment investigation will be broader than the sexual harassment allegations, and will also consider the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes, and claims about the structural integrity of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
But Lavine also cautioned that both Cuomo and the victims of sexual harassment would be afforded “due process” in the investigation, with no anticipated result in mind.
“Due process is not just a preset. It’s not just at the heart of what makes New Yorkers tick. It’s at the heart of the American democracy as well,” Lavine said.
The findings of the investigation will determine if the Assembly moves forward with impeachment against Cuomo. If lawmakers vote in favor of impeachment, Cuomo would be afforded a trial in the State Senate.
The probe has gotten off to a rocky start over the past week due to questions about a potential conflict of interest involving Davis Polk & Wardwell.
Critics of the firm’s selection have said it has long-standing ties to Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by Cuomo as the state’s top judge in 2015. DiFiore’s husband, Dennis Glazer, was a partner at the firm for three decades. He no longer works there.
DiFiore, who would preside over an impeachment trial in the State Senate, was previously Cuomo’s choice to lead JCOPE, the state’s ethics and public integrity agency, and Glazer has been appointed by Cuomo to a handful of positions at state entities.
Angela Burgess, a partner at Davis Polk who’s one of three attorneys leading the investigation, said they ran the matter through the firm’s usual system for identifying conflicts of interest and ruled out anything that would compromise the impartiality of their work.
“As you can imagine, as any large firm would have, we have a conflict system,” Burgess said. “We looked at our contacts, and conflicts, and determined there was none.”
Burgess said the firm has a database to analyze matters they’re preparing to take on that identifies any potential conflicts of interests. That database didn’t find any red flags, she said, and two committees from the law firm also cleared them to take on the matter.
“We did that here on an expedited basis when we were asked about potentially taking on this role,” Burgess said.
The team of attorneys at the firm who will be assigned to the investigation were also cleared through that process, Burgess said.
A few members of the committee asked if the law firm would be working regularly with lawmakers on its investigation and providing regular updates on its progress. Burgess said they would welcome the committee’s involvement in their work.
“We view that as an important part of our work and we would absolutely welcome your thoughts as we proceed with the investigation and try to harness the benefit of the committee’s considerable experience in these types of matters,” Burgess said.
The Assembly’s impeachment investigation is the first step in what could be a decision from Democrats to remove Cuomo from office. If he’s impeached by the Assembly, state law requires him to step down while the Senate holds a trial on the charges.
The New York Attorney General’s Office is conducting its own, simultaneous investigation into the sexual harassment claim leveled against Cuomo in recent weeks.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has not indicated how long that investigation is expected to take, but sources have predicted it would also take months, rather than weeks, to conclude. That probe is limited to the sexual harassment allegations.
The Attorney General’s Office has retained Joon Kim, a former federal prosecutor, and Anne Clark, an employment and discrimination attorney, to lead its investigation.
Cuomo has denied touching any member of his staff inappropriately, and has apologized to women who he made uncomfortable during the interactions.
His administration has also defended its handling of nursing homes, and dismissed claims about the structural integrity of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, which was reported earlier this month by the Albany Times Union.