Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie insisted there was no backroom deal cut with Governor Andrew Cuomo to suspend the impeachment probe in exchange for the governor’s resignation effective August 24th.
“There was no deal,” Heastie said in an interview with Spectrum News Friday evening. “I’ve said that 150 times and I’ll make that the 151st time.”
Legislators speculate a deal was made so that Cuomo can run for office in the future since an impeachment would have resulted in Cuomo no longer being allowed to hold public office in New York state again.
Heastie said the Assembly’s decision to suspend the probe by the Judiciary Committee stemmed from not wanting to interfere with multiple investigations into Cuomo. They include a criminal inquiry by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office into allegations Cuomo groped a female staffer in November last year.
There were also constitutionality questions raised by the Assembly’s lawyers over whether it can move forward with drafting articles of impeachment after Cuomo resigned, according to Heastie.
“We had our lawyers look at that and they confirmed they did not think that it was likely that we could move forward with articles of impeachment,” Heastie said.
The speaker’s interview came the same day Cuomo offered his first interview since his resignation, telling New York Magazine his decision to step down was to spare New York from a prolonged impeachment process that he would ultimately win.
“I’m not gonna drag the state through the mud, through a three-month, four-month impeachment, and then win, and have made the State Legislature and the state government look like a ship of fools, when everything I’ve done all my life was for the exact opposite,” Cuomo said. “I’m not doing that. I feel good. I’m not a martyr. It’s just, I saw the options, option A, option B.”
The suspension of the impeachment probe came days after Cuomo announced he would resign from office Tuesday, following a report released by New York Attorney General Letitia James that found the governor sexually harassed or inappropriately touched 11 women while in office.
The Judiciary Committee’s investigation, which began early this year and ran concurrently with the attorney general’s, also looked at whether Cuomo intentionally released inaccurate data about nursing home deaths during the pandemic. The committee found enough credible evidence to have moved forward with an impeachment proceeding. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in Brooklyn is also investigating the nursing home deaths data.
The suspension of the impeachment probe angered Lindsey Boylan, a former aide who accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. Her account was corroborated and included in the attorney general’s report.
“I feel the deep disappointment so many have in the leaders of our state,” Boylan wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “What I also know is that it is countless women with many years left in their careers leading the fight against the corruption & morass. We will win this fight together. Of that, I am confident.”
Of Heastie, Boylan said the speaker is “certainly no profile in courage.”
Karen Hinton, another accuser mentioned in the report, said Heastie’s decision leaves the door open for Cuomo to run again.
“He has almost $20 million in the bank and unless he’s impeached he can use it to run again,” Hinton said in a statement to Gothamist/WNYC. “Based on the AG report, he’s unfit for office. The impeachment process should have continued to make sure he doesn’t hold public office again.”
Assemblymember Ron Kim, who has been a staunch critic of Cuomo, turned to a memo sent to Assembly Members by a law professor at Cornell University, countering Heastie’s arguments. The memo by Robert Hockett argued that the Assembly could have still impeached Cuomo as a way of preventing him from running for office in the future.
Heastie’s decision also angered the Sexual Harassment Working Group, an advocacy group that seeks to maintain a harassment-free workplace in government. In a statement, the group said the inquiry was intended to ensure legislators are held accountable for their actions.
“The purpose of the investigation was not only to determine whether Cuomo should remain in office, but also to achieve accountability, make clear to New Yorkers that the powerful are not above the law, set a precedent for systemic reform, and to protect government staff by preventing him from ever holding public office again,” the group wrote.