New York state lawmakers will halt the impeachment investigation against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned this week and will leave office on August 25, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced on Friday afternoon.
In a statement, Heastie said Cuomo’s resignation effectively eliminated the central question of the probe – “whether Governor Cuomo should remain in office” – and that Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine advised him, with the guidance of counsel, that the state constitution “does not authorize the legislature to impeach and remove an elected official who is no longer in office.”
The decision caught a number of Democratic lawmakers off-guard and did not sit well with many of Cuomo’s critics, in and outside of government, who had called on the assembly to continue its impeachment process even after the three-term governor stepped down. Heastie in his statement said that the investigation turned up “credible evidence” not only related to sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, 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 COVID-19 pandemic.”
“This evidence – we believe – could likely have resulted in articles of impeachment had he not resigned,” Heastie said.
He also noted that Cuomo still faces a thicket of potential legal woes, pointing to federal, state and local investigations – five of them – into issues ranging from Cuomo’s use of public resources in the writing of his 2020 memoir to the executive’s underreporting of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes and the sexual misconduct allegations that most directly triggered his departure.
Cuomo told New York magazine in an interview published Friday night that he thought he would win an impeachment trial but didn’t want to embarrass lawmakers or the state.
“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. I’m not doing that. I feel good. I’m not a martyr. It’s just, I saw the options, option A, option B,” Cuomo said in the interview.
The governor’s suggestion that he would “win” runs against the reality that caused him to resign – an overwhelming number of state Assembly members who were prepared to impeach him and a state Senate that was expected to convict and remove him after a trial.
Cuomo also told the magazine he was feeling “philosophical” after the announcement earlier this week and that he didn’t know what he was going to do when he leaves office. But he indicated that the political world had not heard the last of him.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will replace Cuomo in 12 days and, though she sought to distance herself from the outgoing governor at a Wednesday news conference, demurred when asked whether she wanted the impeachment process to continue.
“I’ve been in this business long enough to know that is not the purview of the New York state governor to dictate to the New York State Assembly or to the Judiciary Committee on what actions they should take next with respect to anything,” Hochul said, “particularly impeachment.”
A spokesperson for Hochul reiterated that view on Friday, saying, “It was ultimately up to the Assembly and the Lieutenant Governor respects their decision.”
Cuomo has denied all of the allegations against him, saying he never touched anyone inappropriately, but acknowledged that some of his behavior made others uncomfortable – a message he delivered again in his resignation speech on Tuesday, as he depicted his decision as one made for the benefit of the state.
“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Cuomo said in remarks from New York City. “Therefore that’s what I’ll do.”
Cuomo did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.
Despite the governor’s claims that the investigation had been biased against him, the breadth and credibility of the report released last week by state Attorney General Letitia James’ team, which found that he had sexually harassed 11 women, made his position untenable, with Democratic leaders all the way up to President Joe Biden calling for him to go.
Some leading progressives had called on the assembly to follow through with its impeachment work despite Cuomo’s announcement this week, in part because his formal conviction – even after leaving – could potentially prevent him from running for office in the future.
“Resignation is not accountability,” New York Working Families Party director Sochie Nnaemeka said in a statement on Tuesday, “and we urge the legislature to continue with impeachment proceedings so that Andrew Cuomo is never again elevated to a position of power.”
Heastie’s announcement caught Assembly Judiciary Committee member Phil Steck by surprise. He said he was not aware of the decision to suspend the investigation and that there has been no meeting of the Assembly Democratic Majority Conference, nor a conversation among the entire Assembly Judiciary Committee since the governor announced his resignation on Tuesday.
“I think the full the full democratic majority should have had a discussion of the issue. I’m sure the speaker knows that many of us would feel that way,” Steck said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.
CNN’s Carolyn Sung and Julian Cummings contributed to this report.