Sustained criticism over the weekend compelled state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to finally commit to releasing the Judiciary Committee’s report on its investigation into several controversies involving Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Heastie angered many people Friday by announcing that the Judiciary Committee would suspend its impeachment proceeding against Cuomo. He said this process would no longer be necessary once Cuomo finally resigns (he declared last week that he would do so Aug. 24) and that the state constitution does not authorize the Legislature to impeach and remove an elected official who is no longer in office.
It’s appalling that Heastie pulled the plug on the Judiciary Committee’s efforts just three days after Cuomo said he would resign. In his statement Friday, Heastie admitted that the committee’s work was not yet complete. Why not allow the committee to wrap up its investigation and then decide how to proceed based on its conclusions?
On Friday, Heastie said the Judiciary Committee uncovered “credible evidence in relation to allegations that have been made in reference to the governor. Underscoring the depth of this investigation, this evidence concerned not only sexual harassment and misconduct but also the misuse of state resources in relation to the publication of the governor’s memoir as well as improper and misleading disclosure of nursing home data during the [novel coronavirus] pandemic.”
The idea that an impeachment against Cuomo would not continue was bad enough. But Heastie also drew the ire of many people who pointed out that he did not pledge on Friday to release the committee’s findings.
It appeared that he was doing the bidding of state officials who wanted to sweep all of Cuomo’s scandals under the rug. But then Heastie and his colleagues had a change of heart.
“The Assembly Judiciary Committee will continue to review evidence and issue a final report on its investigation of Gov. Cuomo,” Heastie and Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine said in a joint statement, according to a post on Twitter made by Josh Solomon of the Times Union in Albany. “In doing so, the committee will take all appropriate steps to ensure that this effort will not interfere with various ongoing investigations by the United States attorney concerning nursing home data, the attorney general concerning the governor’s memoir and local law enforcement authorities in five jurisdictions — Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, Nassau and Oswego — regarding possible criminal incidents of sexual misconduct.”
This is good news. Heastie has gone on the record promising to issue the committee’s final report.
Of course, it remains to be seen what this report contains. How much further the Judiciary Committee will be allowed to investigate Cuomo’s scandals is anyone’s guess. Committee members could say they strongly suspect Cuomo engaged in the alleged acts but have not made any definite rulings either way because what evidence they saw was inconclusive.
Halting the impeachment process smacks of a private deal made with Cuomo to secure his resignation. This is unacceptable.
Judiciary Committee members must be allowed to complete their investigation. The state Assembly should fulfill its constitutional duty in providing causes of action for a trial in the Senate.
On Friday, Heastie referred to a legal memo addressing the question of whether the state constitution authorizes the impeachment and removal of an elected official who is no longer in office. “Probably not, although the question has not been definitively answered in New York state jurisprudence,” the memo declared before presenting the challenges to continuing an impeachment of Cuomo.
But state Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, offered another perspective. In a tweet posted Friday, he released an assessment of this issue by Robert Hockett, a professor at Cornell University’s Law School.
Hockett found the memo cited by Heastie to be “regrettably short on both legal authority and persuasive authority.” He then presented an argument about why it’s both legal and appropriate to continue with impeachment.
The most important thing now about impeaching Cuomo is that a conviction would result in his not being allowed to hold office again. The state Legislature must carry out this process and render a formal judgment on Cuomo’s behavior by barring him from returning to state government.
If Cuomo believes such action to be illegal, fine. Let him challenge it in court. He would be a private citizen at that point and would need to take up a case on his own dime.
It’s definitely worth the Legislature’s effort to pursue this action against Cuomo. According to the conclusions of an investigation issued two weeks ago by state Attorney General Letitia James, he’s abused his authority and violated the rights of multiple victims.
It’s incumbent upon legislators to hold him accountable for his reported crimes. Corruption has been allowed to run rampant within the halls of the state Capitol in Albany for too long. Members of the Assembly and Senate need to restore people’s confidence in state government by declaring a verdict on Cuomo’s actions.