The leader of the New York State Assembly’s impeachment investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo is warning of “severe repercussions” after a senior aide to the governor tweeted alleged “attempts to demean the Attorney General.”
A tweet from senior Cuomo aide Richard Azzopardi discussing Attorney General Letitia James’s potential political ambitions served “to undermine [her] investigation [into Cuomo] and send profoundly negative signals to witnesses,” according to a Wednesday letter from Charles Lavine, the chairman of the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, which was addressed to top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa.
Lavine’s letter said he warned Cuomo’s office in a March 15 written notice: “In so sensitive a matter, it is both obvious and imperative that neither you nor anyone associated with you engage in intimidation, retaliation, or any attempt at intimidation or retaliation against any complainant or potential witness.”
“It is therefore difficult for me to comprehend your communications director tweeting that Attorney General James, whose office is conducting a parallel investigation, ‘says she may run against the governor,'” Lavine wrote Wednesday, saying Azzopardi’s tweet “sends a chilling signal to any potential witnesses” and “may merit severe repercussions.”
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On July 11, Azzopardi referenced chatter that James will challenge Cuomo in the gubernatorial contest in a tweet slamming John Samuelsen, the international president of the Transport Workers Union. Samuelsen had recently announced he would no longer support Cuomo.
“Sameulson [sic] is an extortionist who is trying to undo pension reform. We also understand he is a political supporter of Tish James and she says she may run against the governor, and he wants more benefits in his contract. Everyone gets that,” Azzopardi wrote.
It was reported earlier that day that Samuelson, a former Cuomo supporter, said he was “over” Cuomo due to the mounting allegations against him, including accusations of sexual harassment from at least 10 women.
James and Lavine have opened two separate investigations into the women’s allegations. Azzopardi and Cuomo have both spoken to investigators from James’s office, signifying her investigation may be nearing its end.
Though James has not yet revealed the findings of her investigation, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Friday that James’s report “should be a part” of the Assembly’s investigation but should not necessarily “itself, alone … rise to an action [of impeachment].”
An attorney for one Cuomo accuser blasted Heastie’s comments as “alarming and outrageous.”
“Speaker Heastie has made clear that he will actively obstruct efforts to hold Governor Cuomo responsible even if, as we expect will be the case, the Attorney General’s investigators substantiate the multiple allegations of sexual harassment levied against the Governor. … Speaker Heastie’s statement is a betrayal of the duties of his office and demonstrates that his loyalty is to Governor Cuomo, and not to either the rule of law or to the women who have been victimized by the Governor in clear violation of the law,” Debra Katz, attorney for Cuomo accuser Charlotte Bennett and a frequent Heastie critic, said in a press release on Friday.
Cuomo, who has denied all allegations of wrongdoing, faces several scandals threatening his governorship, including charges that he improperly used his office to grant members of his inner circle special access to COVID-19 testing and to promote his book about leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor did, however, receive some good news Friday, when the Department of Justice announced it would drop investigations into Cuomo and several other Democratic governors after it reviewed materials relating to their nursing home policies during the pandemic.
“Based on that review, we have decided not to open a [Civil Rights of Institutional Persons Act] investigation of any public nursing facility within New York, Pennsylvania, or Michigan at this time,” the department wrote to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
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The federal government previously opened the investigation into Cuomo’s nursing home policy after DeRosa acknowledged that the governor’s office hid the state’s nursing home coronavirus death toll out of fear of political retribution from President Donald Trump.
Despite facing pressure from within his own party to resign, Cuomo has refused to step down, saying the accusations against him are false. He has signaled that he plans to run for a fourth term, hosting a $10,000-per-person fundraiser last month at which he raised more than $1 million toward his reelection efforts.
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