Lawyers

Going through Lack of Supporters, Cuomo Good points Consideration From Prosecutors

A day after the release of a devastating report concluding that he had sexually harassed 11 women, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo found himself increasingly isolated on Wednesday, with his most loyal supporters abandoning him and four more prosecutors saying they would investigate his behavior.

Several unions that had long been aligned with Mr. Cuomo withdrew their support on Wednesday. Two past members of his administration — including a former legal adviser who had been consulted in the governor’s strategic meetings on how to fight the accusations — asked him to resign.

By late afternoon, Mr. Cuomo had lost the backing of perhaps his closest political ally, Jay Jacobs, the head of the state’s Democratic Party, who has been the governor’s staunchest defender in recent months. In a statement, Mr. Jacobs said that the governor’s removal from office was “inevitable,” and that Mr. Cuomo’s refusal to step down ran counter to Mr. Jacobs’s advice.

“The governor has lost his ability to govern, both practically and morally,” said Mr. Jacobs, who was handpicked by Mr. Cuomo for the job in 2019.

The defection of Mr. Jacobs emphasized Mr. Cuomo’s political exile as he faces the biggest challenge of his career: survival in the face of growing public opposition to his continued leadership.

Mr. Cuomo was in Albany on Wednesday, remaining out of public view. He gave no response to the disclosure that prosecutors in Manhattan and Albany had already opened criminal investigations, and prosecutors in Westchester, Nassau and Oswego Counties asked the attorney general’s office for investigative materials, or to the news that one of his accusers intended to file a lawsuit against him.

A lawyer for the governor on Tuesday called the report “unfair,” “inaccurate” and “utterly biased.” Asked on Wednesday about the criminal investigations and the defection of some allies, a spokesman for the governor referred back to Mr. Cuomo’s videotaped address from Tuesday, in which he denied any wrongdoing.

The mounting legal troubles and political aftershocks deepened the crisis confronting the governor, and increased scrutiny and pressure on the State Assembly, which is in the midst of a sprawling impeachment investigation.

The inquiry’s slow start earlier this year appeared to offer Mr. Cuomo a chance to bide his time, with any prolonged delay seemingly aiding his chances at re-election next year. But State Assembly members said this week that the cache of witness interviews, documents and other evidence assembled by the attorney general’s investigators provided new urgency.

Several members of the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, which is conducting the investigation, said that they expected the pace of the inquiry would quicken in the wake of the report, particularly after the attorney general, Letitia James, said she would provide her team’s assembled evidence to the Assembly.

The committee is reconvening on Monday morning, with members expected to review the progress of the investigation, which is being conducted by outside lawyers.

So far, the lawyers have questioned or requested interviews with senior administration officials, according to three people with knowledge of the investigation. They have also collected communications and have begun looking into particular conversations among top officials, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.

Still, some of the information in the attorney general’s report was new to those familiar with the impeachment investigation, including the account of a state trooper assigned to Mr. Cuomo’s protective detail who said the governor inappropriately touched her while she was on duty.

Some Assembly members said the account appeared to push some of their colleagues toward calling for the governor’s resignation.

After it launched, the impeachment investigation had landed on four main focal points: the sexual harassment allegations; Mr. Cuomo’s handling of nursing home data during the pandemic; whether he used state resources to write his pandemic memoir; and whether the administration covered up potential structural problems on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

Assemblyman Michael Montesano, the committee’s ranking Republican member, said on Wednesday that the committee had “been redirecting our resources” away from the bridge allegations to other areas, believing them to be more productive.

Thomas J. Abinanti, a Democratic member of the committee, said he expected the Assembly members would discuss whether to continue investigating all four areas, particularly in the wake of the attorney general’s report.

But the committee and its lawyers, he said, would also need to take time to review the attorney general’s report, the corroborating evidence and the governor’s rebuttal.

Mr. Abinanti and another Democratic committee member, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, said that the committee was unlikely to move to the next step until it was convinced it could draft articles of impeachment that would withstand a legal challenge from the governor’s team.

Impeachment in New York has little historical precedent: only one governor in the state’s history, William Sulzer, has been impeached, and the trial took place more than a century ago.

A person familiar with the process said it could take a month to complete the inquiry and draw up the articles of impeachment. A trial in the State Senate could begin as soon as late September or early October.

The lawyers hired by the Judiciary Committee are expected to put together a report of their findings. The committee will review it, then recommend whether the Assembly should impeach the governor.

If they do so, members of the Judiciary Committee would then draw up articles of impeachment. A majority of Assembly members would have to vote to impeach Mr. Cuomo.

Democrats in the Assembly held a closed-door emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss whether to draft articles of impeachment based solely on the findings of the attorney general report; the move appeared to have support among many of the 50 or 60 lawmakers who spoke, according to four people with knowledge of the meeting.

If Mr. Cuomo is impeached, he will be expected to step aside, with the state Constitution suggesting the lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, serve as acting governor until the end of the process.

The State Senate would be required to start a trial within 30 to 60 days of receiving articles of impeachment.

Unlike in a federal impeachment trial, which is decided by the U.S. Senate, the jury in a New York trial includes all but one state senator and the seven members of New York’s Court of Appeals, the highest state court. (In presidential impeachments, members of the judiciary do not vote.)

The Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, is forbidden by the State Constitution from voting on the jury because she is in the line of succession. A two-thirds majority — 46 votes — would be required to convict and remove Mr. Cuomo from office.

The Assembly’s investigation has proceeded separately from the one conducted by Ms. James’s office, which substantiated 11 women’s accusations that Mr. Cuomo had made inappropriate physical contact, including groping, and inappropriate comments. The report suggested the governor’s denials were inconsistent with evidence and, at times, contrived.

The report’s level of detail and the clarity with which it was presented swayed some Cuomo supporters who had initially urged restraint as the investigation was proceeding.

On Wednesday, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said that it was “grateful” for Mr. Cuomo’s past achievements but thought he needed to step down. D.C. 37, New York City’s largest public employees union, said the governor “was no longer fit to serve.”

Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, the majority leader of the State Assembly, was one of Mr. Cuomo’s vocal defenders against calls for his resignation in March. She told a reporter on Wednesday that the governor’s ability to govern had been compromised and that she thought he should resign.

Others in Albany agreed. Assemblyman John T. McDonald III, who previously said he was waiting to see the report before weighing in on resignation, said on Wednesday that he was swayed by the caliber of the investigators and the consistency of the 11 women’s stories.

“You could tell yesterday that these investigators, they did their job,” said Mr. McDonald, who called on Mr. Cuomo to resign before the governor’s videotaped address had finished.

He added that he was particularly struck by the report’s detailed description of a toxic and unprofessional workplace culture inside Mr. Cuomo’s office, including retaliation for speaking up.

The report explained at length how Mr. Cuomo and some of his closest advisers had targeted one accuser in particular, Lindsey Boylan, the first former aide to publicly accuse Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment. A lawyer for Ms. Boylan said on Wednesday that she planned to sue the governor and his close advisers for those retaliatory actions.

“Because Lindsey was first, the governor needed to send a message,” said the lawyer, Jill Basinger. “He needed to send a message to every other survivor out there that this is what happens when you go against the machine of the governor’s office.”

Lawyers said that the governor could be criminally charged with forcible touching or sex abuse in the third degree, both misdemeanors, but cautioned that it would be difficult for prosecutors to make a case, and that they would need victims to come forward and file formal reports. There is no indication that any of the prosecutors has reached an advanced stage of an investigation or that charges will be brought imminently, or at all.

Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former chief deputy to Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in an interview Wednesday that Mr. Vance would have jurisdiction to look into any crimes committed in the borough within the statute of limitations.

“All it requires is a victim to come forward and make a report,” Ms. Agnifilo said.

It is unclear whether any victims will do so, though they have been encouraged to by the Albany County prosecutor, David Soares. In an interview with “NBC Nightly News” on Tuesday, Mr. Soares said that no accusers had lodged a formal complaint with his office, even as its investigators had sought to make contact with some of them.

Dorchen A. Leidholdt, the director of the legal services program at the Sanctuary for Families, which advocates for survivors of gender-based violence, said that there were steps that investigators could take to seek victims’ cooperation without retraumatizing or otherwise harming them, including the avoidance of victim-blaming questions and having the victim repeat traumatic details.

“Survivors have a dilemma,” she said. “So often, they want justice and they know their predator is preying on others.” But she acknowledged that coming forward also presented real risks to survivors, saying, “It’s not safe for everyone.”

J. David Goodman, Luis Ferré-Sadurní and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

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