A blistering state attorney general's report alleging that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women has pushed state legislators to expedite impeachment proceedings — but the process is still expected to last months, lawmakers said.
"We have a heavy lift," state Assemblyman Michael Montesano, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday in an interview.
In a 165-page report released Tuesday, Attorney General Letitia James alleged that Cuomo had violated state and federal law by harassing almost a dozen women, touching some of them inappropriately and using the power of his office to retaliate against one. Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing and ignored bipartisan calls to resign, including one from President Joe Biden, a longtime ally.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who authorized the Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation into his fellow Democrat in March, said in a statement after the report was released that it is clear that Cuomo "has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office."
"Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the attorney general, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible," Heastie said.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet Monday in Albany to work out a timetable. In addition to the harassment allegations, lawyers hired by the committee have been looking into allegations that the Cuomo administration intentionally undercounted Covid-19 nursing home deaths and misused state resources on Cuomo's book about leadership during the pandemic.
Cuomo has denied wrongdoing in those cases, as well.
Assembly investigators are "very far along" in the inquiries, Montesano said.
Legislators cautioned that the process will still be time-consuming and that it doesn't have much precedent. Only one New York governor has ever been impeached — William Sulzer, who was removed from office in 1913.
"We're in uncharted territory," said another committee member, Assemblyman David Weprin, a Democrat.
Montesano and Weprin both said in interviews that legislators will want to be thorough when drafting any articles of impeachment.
"We have to get it right the first time," Montesano said.
Weprin said "it will be a process" that "will probably go on for about a month."
"You don't want to present charges without the substantiation behind it," he added.
After the articles are drafted, they would need to be passed by a simple majority of the committee before they could be presented to the entire 150-member Assembly. At least 76 members would have to vote impeach the governor, and while Democrats hold 106 seats in the Assembly, "the votes are there comfortably for impeachment," state Sen. James Skoufis, a Democrat, told MSNBC on Wednesday.
If the Assembly does vote to charge Cuomo, he would then stand trial before the state Senate. Unlike in the federal system, he would be stripped of his powers during the trial, making Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul the acting governor, the legislators said. (Sulzer maintained that that was unconstitutional and refused to step aside for his lieutenant, who referred to himself as acting governor.)
Also unlike in the federal system, senators wouldn't be the only judges and jurors. Judges from the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, would hear the case, as well. That could be an advantage for Cuomo, who appointed all seven of the judges.
The trial would have to begin within 30 to 60 days of the impeachment vote, and it's unclear how long it would take. Sulzer's lasted three weeks.
Of the 69 senators and judges who would make up the impeachment court, two-thirds, or 46, would have to vote to convict to remove Cuomo from office.
Weprin said he expects that any trial would be completed before the end of the year.
Skoufis told MSNBC that "the writing is exquisitely on the wall here." Cuomo "can count the votes. He knows what's going on," he said.
"It's over. There's no maybe, there's no gray area, there's no conceivable scenario or path where he can ride this out," Skoufis said. "He will no longer be governor, and it's only a matter of time before that happens. My hope, I think everyone's hope, is that he resigns, he steps down willingly and spares the state, spares the Democratic Party, from an ugly impeachment proceeding."