The Assembly on Thursday initiated what could be the first step toward impeachment when it opened an investigation with full subpoena power as more details emerge from allegations of sexual misconduct against the governor and his handling of COVID-19 at nursing homes.
“The Democratic Conference is taking the first step toward impeachment by opening an investigation with full subpoena power to obtain facts and testimonies under oath,” Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim said in a statement.
“Some members, including myself, argued that we had enough admission to proceed with impeachment today but the conference is leaning toward setting up the process and structure toward impeachment,” he said.
Nearly 90% of New York’s congressional delegation has called for the governor’s resignation or impeachment, as have more than 80% of state senators.
If 76 of the Assembly’s 150 members call for impeachment, that would represent a majority. So far, only 40 are in favor of impeachment while 80 want Cuomo to resign or step aside.
Only three New York members of Congress — Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Gregory Meeks and Tom Suozzi — have not come out in favor of impeachment or resigation.
Cuomo has reiterated that he will not resign and has denied allegations of sexual misconduct.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating harassment allegations, and Cuomo has said he will “fully cooperate” with her probe. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn are also investigating his administration’s admission that it underreported thousands of COVID-19 nursing home deaths over the summer.
James does not have the power to remove Cuomo from office, but any findings corroborating the allegations could sway potential impeachment proceedings — or add pressure for Cuomo to leave voluntarily.
There is no deadline for completing the investigation and James hasn’t said how long she expects it to take. A 2010 investigation that Cuomo oversaw as attorney general into his predecessor, Gov. David Paterson, lasted about five months.
The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee could rely on work done by the attorney general’s team of investigators, or gather its own evidence, which could result in the drafting of articles of impeachment against Cuomo, though that outcome is far from certain.
If a majority of Assembly members vote to impeach Cuomo, a trial on his removal from office would be held in what’s known as the Impeachment Court.
The court consists not only of members of the state Senate, but also judges of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, who would also cast votes. There are seven appeals court judges and 63 senators, though not all would serve on the impeachment court.
Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature. Many have joined Republicans in calling for Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment in recent days. Cuomo has appointed all seven members of the Court of Appeals.
If the Assembly votes to impeach Cuomo, state law might force him to step aside immediately — a dramatic difference from what happens when the U.S. president is impeached.
A section of the state’s judicial code regarding impeachment states: “No officer shall exercise his office, after articles of impeachment against him shall have been delivered to the senate, until he is acquitted.”
According to the state constitution, the lieutenant governor would then take over.
“In case the governor is impeached, is absent from the state or is otherwise unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office of governor, the lieutenant-governor shall act as governor until the inability shall cease or until the term of the governor shall expire,” the constitution states.
If Cuomo were to be acquitted in an impeachment court, he would return to office. If the Impeachment Court were to remove him from office, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would serve out the remainder of Cuomo’s term — through the end of 2022. The court could also opt to disqualify him from holding office in the future, on top of removing him.
The Associated Press and Fox News’ Remy Numa contributed to this report.