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New York Assembly authorizes new probe of Cuomo sexual misconduct allegations

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) speaks at the coronavirus vaccination site at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on Monday. (Pool/Reuters)

The New York State Assembly on Thursday authorized an investigation of sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a potential first step toward impeachment.

The decision to authorize a probe by the Judiciary Committee came after more than three dozen Democrats in the lower house called on Cuomo (D) to resign.

“The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious,” Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said in a statement authorizing the investigation. “The committee will have the authority to interview witnesses, subpoena documents and evaluate evidence, as is allowed by the New York State Constitution.”

The decision, after a hastily called meeting among Assembly Democrats, marked a rapid shift of fortunes for the governor, who had been struggling to hold back calls for him to leave office as the number of women accusing him of improper conduct has grown.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) reiterated his refusal to resign after twelve members of the state's congressional delegation called for him to step down. (Video: AP, Photo: Salwan Georges/AP)

The announcement followed an admission by Cuomo’s acting counsel, Beth Garvey, that she had referred to Albany police a recent complaint about Cuomo’s behavior. The Albany Times Union reported Wednesday that a woman, who has not been named, said the governor put his hand under her blouse and fondled her last year. The Washington Post has not independently confirmed the account.

“As a matter of state policy when allegations of physical contact are made, the agency informs the complainant that they should contact their local police department,” Garvey said. “If they decline, the agency has an obligation to reach out themselves and inform the department of the allegation.”

Cuomo has been accused of improper touching, inappropriate workplace conversations or both by six women in recent weeks, including five who worked for him. He has denied any inappropriate touching and apologized for conversations that he says he did not know at the time were harmful. Before the Assembly Democrats’ action, state Attorney General Letitia James had launched an investigation.

“I have never done anything like this,” Cuomo said in a statement after the Times Union reported the alleged groping incident. “The details of this report are gut-wrenching. I am not going to speak to the specifics of this or any other allegation given the ongoing review, but I am confident in the result of the Attorney General’s report.”

The latest accusation appeared to have had an impact on sentiment among members of the legislature. Forty Democratic members of the Assembly and 19 Democratic state senators — a substantial minority of legislative party members — released a statement Thursday morning calling on Cuomo to step down because of the allegations and a separate investigation into the handling of ­covid-19 nursing home death data.

The lawmakers said Cuomo had “lost the confidence of the public and the state legislature, rendering him ineffective in this time of most urgent need.”

If the Assembly Democrats voted with the Assembly’s 43 Republicans for impeachment, Cuomo would be referred for a trial in the state Senate, where the Democratic majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has also called for Cuomo to resign.

The separate attorney general’s investigation, also undertaken with subpoena power, is being conducted by lawyers appointed by James and is expected to continue.

“Today’s action by the New York state legislature will have no bearing on our independent investigation into these allegations against Governor Cuomo,” James said late Thursday in a statement. “Our investigation will continue.”

Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.