Committee holds first impeachment probe meeting into Cuomo allegations

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The impeachment investigation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo will likely take “months” to complete because there are so many allegations against him, the head of the Assembly Judiciary Committee said Tuesday.

“Given the breadth and seriousness of the issues under investigation, we expect that the timing will be in terms of months, rather than weeks,” committee Chairman Charles Lavine (D-Long Island) said during the panel’s first meeting on the matter.

Lavine said he’d served a notice of “non-retaliation” on Cuomo’s office in a bid to prevent intimidation of witnesses to the governor’s alleged wrongdoing.

On Monday, the lawyer for former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, alleged that Cuomo’s office was interfering in a separate probe commissioned by Attorney General Letitia James by having “in-house attorneys” meet with his staffers and accompany them to interviews with outside investigators.

Lavine also said the Assembly was setting up a hotline for tips, similar to what the outside lawyers in charge of the AG’s probe did earlier this month.

During his opening remarks, Lavine said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx) “has directed us to examine all credible allegations, including but not limited to — and here the key is, including but not limited to — did the governor use his office to sexually harass or assault women who were his employees?”

“Did he direct staff to unlawfully withhold or misrepresent information that was required to be reported to the state legislature, or other governmental entities regarding the effects of COVID-19 on New Yorkers?”

Lavine added: “Did he direct or have knowledge of executive personnel withholding information regarding safety concerns about New York state bridges, or did he direct or have knowledge of executive personnel, attempting to suppress related investigations?”

Also during the meeting, which was conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, several committee members asked about the possible conflict of interest faced by the lawyers hired by the Assembly to assist the Judiciary Committee with its probe.

Critics have attacked the deal with the white-shoe law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell because the husband of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore of the state Court of Appeals was a partner there for more than three decades.

Two Davis Polk lawyers insisted Tuesday meeting that there was no conflict of interest, with one saying the determination followed a “very robust process” within the firm.

But Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) appeared skeptical, saying, “I have to be honest, I am a lawyer myself, and it felt like the biggest lawyer answer.”

Cruz also said the committee should be notified “right away” any conflict arises “because we as a committee are going to want to have input on what steps you take.”

If Cuomo were impeached, DiFiore, whom he nominated to her post, would get to vote on the verdict at his Senate trial, as would the other six other judges on the Court of Appeals, who are all also Cuomo nominees.

Also during the meeting, Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens) asked what the lawyers would do in the case of “uncooperative witnesses,” an apparent reference to former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan, who last week called the impeachment probe a “sham” that’s “not designed to be transparent or to move fast.”

Davis Polk lawyer Martine Beamon, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor, said they were “very hopeful” that “with coming to know the integrity of our process … ultimately witnesses will become comfortable and will wish to speak to us independently.”

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