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Enough to impeach

Advance Media New York

The Assembly Judiciary Committee conducted its first hearing Tuesday into the impeachment of Gov. Andrew Cuomo over allegations of sexual harassment and the cover-up of nursing home deaths. The hearing confirmed our worst fears.

The investigation is going to last months, not weeks, buying time for Cuomo to downplay his burgeoning scandals and for lawmakers to lose their nerve.

The Assembly could have — should have — drafted articles of impeachment weeks ago with the considerable evidence it has at hand. By choosing to throw the investigation to the Judiciary Committee, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie squandered considerable momentum in Albany for holding the governor accountable for his alleged abuses of power.

That included calls for Cuomo’s resignation from powerful Democrats in both houses of the Legislature an in Congress, up to Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

With the governor politically wounded and support in his own party evaporating, it was now or never. Heastie chose … some unspecified time in the future.

The fact-finding process by the Judiciary Committee’s hired-gun Albany law firm is an unnecessary delaying tactic. The Assembly could start impeachment proceedings today with the public admissions from the governor’s staff that they obscured the number of nursing home deaths from Covid-19, including an episode where they scrubbed a report of numbers that made their boss look bad. Then, Cuomo’s “vaccine czar” called county executives to gauge their political support, walking right up to the ethical line of trading vaccine allocations for loyalty. Now, the Albany Times-Union reports that Cuomo’s family and associates got special access to state Covid testing at a time such tests weren’t available to the general public.

As for the sexual harassment allegations, eight women inside and outside the administration are on the record with their complaints against Cuomo involving inappropriate touching, groping, questioning about sex and other lecherous behavior. The governor denies making physical advances but offered a weak “if I offended anyone” apology. Attorney General Letitia James has appointed two independent investigators to look into the incidents. There already are complaints that the administration is interfering with the probe.

Heastie and Judiciary Chairman Charles Lavine both argue the Assembly investigation is necessary to protect Cuomo’s right to due process. Yes, the governor is entitled to due process. He would get plenty of it during a public impeachment trial in the Senate, where he could face his accusers and make his case for retaining office.

And what about a fair hearing for the women who allege they were sexually harassed by the governor? Why should they trust this opaque and secretive investigation? Lindsey Boylan, a former Empire State Development executive who accused Cuomo of an unwanted kiss and inviting her to play strip poker, vowed not to cooperate with the Assembly’s “sham” investigation.

There are other problems with Judiciary’s probe. It will not be transparent. Meetings and testimony will happen behind closed doors. There is no deadline for completion, though Lavine said to expect it to take months, not weeks. Outside counsel Davis, Polk & Wardwell is under fire for a perceived conflict of interest; a former partner is married to Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, whom Cuomo appointed. The Judiciary Committee is stacked with lawyers, yet they outsource the investigation to insulate themselves from the governor’s wrath.

We praised Cuomo’s initial handling of the pandemic but were under no illusions about the governor’s long and well-earned reputation for bullying, controlling and sometimes corrupt behavior (see Moreland Commission, Joe Percoco, the Buffalo Billion). The editorial board endorsed his Republican opponent, Marc Molinaro, two years ago, citing corruption under the governor’s nose.

Calling for Cuomo to resign is a hollow gesture. He has no intention of quitting and no one can make him — except through a swift and transparent impeachment process.

If the Assembly has the guts to do it.

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