Republican lawmakers in New York introduced a resolution Monday to begin impeachment proceedings against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo — which hasn't been done in New York in over 100 years.
"There's been one bombshell after another," Will Barclay, the Republican leader of the state Assembly, told reporters at the state Capitol in Albany, where he announced the impeachment resolution.
Cuomo has been besieged by bipartisan calls to either resign or be impeached over dual scandals that have rocked his administration in recent weeks: allegations that his administration intentionally undercounted Covid-19 nursing home deaths and allegations from five women that he sexually harassed them. Cuomo has denied wrongdoing with the nursing home numbers, and he has denied having harassed women while apologizing for how his behavior might have made some of them feel.
"The real problem now is the governor's lost so much credibility and trust that we don't feel like he can go forward and govern," Barclay said. "So we want to move ahead, do this impeachment in the Assembly."
The impeachment resolution isn't likely to proceed at the moment. Democrats control 106 of the Assembly's 150 seats, and only a handful of members have said they would vote to impeach.
If Cuomo is impeached, however, there's "very little precedent to rely on," said Peter Galie, a professor emeritus of political science at Canisius College in Buffalo.
Only one New York governor has ever been impeached — William Sulzer, who was impeached for campaign finance violations and removed from office in October 1913 after a three-week trial. Historians have said he was targeted for having crossed Tammany Hall, the corrupt political organization that had once backed him.
"During his tenure, his efforts to remove Tammany Hall influences in state government resulted in an investigation that discovered fraud in his own campaign contributions," the National Governors Association website said.
Sulzer said his impeachment was a "political lynching" and "the culmination of a deep-laid political conspiracy to oust me from office."
As for the impeachment process itself, Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor, said, "it's a lot like but not the same as in the federal system."
Impeachment begins in the Assembly and "requires a majority of the members of the Assembly" to vote to charge the governor.
Unlike the federal Constitution, New York's Constitution makes "no mention of high crimes and misdemeanors," Galie said. In terms of possible charges, "there's nothing there at all," leaving the way forward entirely up to the Assembly, he said.
If the Assembly votes to charge the governor, a trial is held before the state Senate. Unlike in the federal system, the senators aren't the only judges/jurors. Judges from the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, hear the case, as well. That could be a boon for Cuomo, who appointed all seven of the judges.
Gillers said the judges probably were added to eliminate appeals, because the "state high court judges would already have participated in the impeachment trial."
A two-thirds vote is required for conviction, and the penalty is removal from office. The Senate and the judges could also vote to ban the governor from holding any other state office — a penalty that wasn't used against Sulzer. He was elected to the Assembly just weeks after he was impeached.
A spokesman for Cuomo responded to the impeachment threats Monday by saying Cuomo is focused on his work.
"There's a job to be done, and New Yorkers elected the governor to do it, which is why he has been focused on getting as many shots in arms as possible, making sure New York is getting its fair share in Washington's Covid relief package and working on a state budget that is due in three weeks," said the spokesman, Rich Azzopardi.
Twenty Democratic female legislators issued a statement Monday calling for state Attorney General Letitia James to be given time to complete her investigation of the sexual harassment allegations, saying, "Our democracy demands that we be diligent and expeditious in our search for truth and justice."
James announced later Monday that her office had hired Joon Kim, a former acting U.S attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Anne L. Clark, an employment discrimination lawyer, to lead an independent investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment.
"These are serious allegations that demand a rigorous and impartial investigation. We will act judiciously and follow the facts wherever they lead," Kim said in a statement.