ALBANY — A lawmaker spearheading an inquiry considering the impeachment of Gov. Andrew Cuomo began the proceeding Tuesday by warning New York's chief executive to refrain from intimidating witnesses in the probe.
Outlining the scope of the investigation, the chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Assemblyman Charles Lavine, D-Long Island, said, "Everything is on the table."
Lavine also suggested a quick conclusion was unlikely.
"Given the breadth and seriousness of the issues under investigation, we expect the timing will be in terms of months, rather than weeks," the veteran lawmaker said.
Lavine said he has formally warned Cuomo that "he and his employees and allies should take no steps toward intimidating any witness or any potential witness."
The impeachment inquiry is being led by three attorneys from the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell, all with backgrounds in white collar crime probes -- Martine Beamon, Angela Burges and Greg Andres.
At the initial hearing, Assemblyman Michael Norris, R-Lockport, urged the lawyers to keep the Judiciary Committee updated on its work, and inquired into the process that will be used by the lawyers to work with the panel when it needs to have subpoenas "to make sure we get the relevant information that we need" when witnesses won't cooperate.
"It is very important that all members of this committee receive all of the relevant information from this law firm on a regular basis," Norris added.
Andres responded that "as many as a half dozen other lawyers" will be assisting in the impeachment probe.
Cuomo is facing allegations of sexual harassment and bullying behavior from six women, including current and former members of his administration. At least two of the women currently work for Cuomo at this Albany office.
Earlier this month, a New Yorker magazine article reported a Cuomo staffer leaked internal personnel records impugning Lindsey Boylan, a former high-level manager at Empire State Development, after she went public on Twitter in December with allegations the governor sexually harassed her.
The New Yorker reported former Cuomo communications director Rich Bamberger, now a managing director at Kivvit, a public relations firm, contacted reporters for the New York Post, the Albany Times Union and the Associated Press, suggesting they ask a Cuomo aide to provide the Boylan records. Information from the documents turned up in news stories published later that day.
In a statement to CNHI, David Grandeau, an outside counsel for Kivvit, said: "If asked, Kivvit will cooperate with ongoing investigations being executed by the New York State Attorney General and Assembly. Kivvit does not work for Governor Cuomo or his campaign in any capacity."
In a separate statement, Bamberger said: "I would obviously cooperate with any investigation."
In addition to Bamberger, Kivvit has two other managing directors in New York with deep ties to Cuomo - Josh Vlasto, who previously worked in the Cuomo administration, and Maggie Moran, who was Cuomo's campaign manager three years ago. Neither has been implicated in the alleged effort to smear Boylan, now a Democratic candidate for Manhattan borough president.
Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said while he supports a thorough review, he would like to see it be "expeditious" in reaching a determination.
More than half of New York's 213 elected state lawmakers, along with Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, are calling on Cuomo to resign in the aftermath of the sexual harassment charges and ongoing federal probe examining the alleged suppression of nursing home death data. The federal probe has been delving into suggestions nursing home data was suppressed at a time when the governor was promoting a published memoir about leading the pandemic response.
Cuomo has refused to release the financial details of his book deal. The 63-year-old divorced father of three adult daughters has insisted he has not sexually abused or harassed women.
Nevertheless, at a time when the #MeToo movement has gained traction, and with the probe into nursing home deaths still ongoing, Cuomo's hopes of getting the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022 are shrinking, said George Arzt, a Democratic consultant.
"It will be very difficult for him to run in a Democratic primary for a fourth term" if the investigations continue to loom over his leadership, Arzt said.
Veteran New York political observer Gerald Benjamin, a retired SUNY New Paltz professor, said maligning women who have stepped forward with allegations about Cuomo is "a losing strategy." He suggested the Cuomo team could be more effective by putting the accent on the governor's pandemic leadership and apologizing to those upset with his actions.
"Anytime he plays the political game of tearing somebody down, he creates vulnerabilities for himself," Benjamin said.
If Cuomo ends up being impeached, he will be disqualified from being re-elected, he pointed out.
The last impeachment of a New York governor came 108 years ago when William Sulzer was removed from office.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's Newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org