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State Assembly impeachment inquiry nears completion

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The New York State Assembly’s impeachment inquiry signaled Thursday that it is in the final stages, requesting attorneys for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to submit any additional evidence by the end of the day on Aug. 13.

Articles of impeachment could be drawn up as soon as September.

A spokesman for Cuomo said the governor intends to fully cooperate.

Charles Lavine, the chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee that is conducting the impeachment inquiry, directed attorneys to write a letter telling the governor’s lawyers that the investigation is “nearing completion” and “will soon consider potential articles of impeachment against your client.”

In the letter, the lawyers were asked to submit any additional evidence or written accounts that they would like the committee to consider by the close of the business day on Aug. 13.

Judiciary Committee member Phil Steck said that in any investigation, the last step is to hear from the accused.

“After the governor responds, if he does respond, the attorneys will have to consider that,” said Steck, who added the committee will then determine what "particular issues" should be included in articles of impeachment.

“I think it’s difficult to imagine, at this point in time, that sexual harassment would not be one of them,” Steck said.

The impeachment inquiry is also looking into allegations that Cuomo and his top aides covered up the actual number of nursing home deaths from COVID-19 and that the governor improperly used staff to help him write and edit a book for which he was paid $5 million. It is also investigating whether there were neglected safety issues during the construction of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, formerly the Tappan Zee Bridge, on the New York Thruway over the Hudson River.

Steck said the committee is on track to be ready to potentially vote on impeachment by next month.

“I think it’s extremely realistic for the committee to be considering articles of impeachment by early September,” Steck said. “And then the Assembly would have a vote.”

Steck, who has called on Cuomo to resign, said it would be better, though, if the governor voluntarily left office before all that could happen.

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, who also called on Cuomo to resign in February when the allegations of sexual harassment first became known, said if the governor continues to stay in office, then the impeachment needs to move ahead as quickly as possible.

“We need to move with all judicious speed on these impeachment proceedings,” Fahy said.

Fahy said the crisis has put the state government in limbo. She said major concerns, including fighting the rising gun violence and the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, are not receiving enough attention right now.

Cuomo declared a 30-day state of emergency to combat gun violence in early July, but Fahy said little progress has been made.

“I appreciate when the governor brought his entire administration to bear on gun violence,” Fahy said. “And we’ve got to get back to that.”

Fahy said if the governor were to heed the near-universal calls for his resignation, she believes Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would be able to take over the office and governor effectively, with minimal transitional hiccups.

Cuomo has not spoken publicly, except for a brief recorded message, since Attorney General Tish James’ damning report on sexual harassment was released Tuesday. On Thursday, he offered a sign that he intends to remain in office, at least for now, and continue to fight.

Paul Fishman, the private attorney hired to represent the governor’s office in the scandals, issued a 13-page legal rebuttal of the attorney general's findings that the executive chamber took retaliatory action against one of the 11 women who were sexually harassed by Cuomo.

Fishman wrote that he is “surprised” that investigators concluded that actions against former staffer Lindsay Boylan were “unlawful retaliation.” He blamed Boylan herself for the governor’s aide's decision to leak her personnel files to the media. Fishman said Cuomo’s office was responding to a series of negative tweets posted by Boylan.

Boylan has filed a civil suit against the governor, claiming he and his staff illegally retaliated against her complaints of harassment.

Late Thursday, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the governor intends to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry and is taking the Assembly at its word that it is doing a “full and thorough review of the complaints.” He said the governor “appreciates the opportunity."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.