NYS lawmaker leading Cuomo impeachment probe troubled by Gov. aide’s comments about Attorney General James

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ALBANY — The lawmaker leading the impeachment investigation into Gov. Cuomo is “extraordinarily concerned” about comments made by one of the governor’s top aides about Attorney General Letitia James.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Nassau) penned a letter to Cuomo Wednesday likening remarks made by senior adviser Rich Azzopardi to a “verbal attack” against James as the attorney general heads up an independent probe into allegations of sexual harassment against the governor.

“I am extraordinarily concerned with respect to the Governor’s communications director’s verbal attack against the Attorney General,” Lavine said. “Demeaning the Attorney General in turn demeans the Attorney General’s investigation and at the same time sends an obviously intimidating message to potential witnesses.”

As scandals have engulfed the governor in recent months, Azzopardi and Cuomo have both painted James’ probe and other investigations into the administration as politically-motivated.

Cuomo himself signed off on James’ investigation in March after multiple women, including current and former staffers, came forward with claims of misconduct against him.

The governor initially expressed faith in the process before making vague comments about “politics in Albany and political realities.”

Lavine’s letter comes after Azzopardi last week lamented leaks about the investigation, being run by a pair of outside attorneys, as it was revealed that Cuomo was to be interviewed over the weekend.

Azzopardi said reports of the sit down were “more evidence of the transparent political motivation of the Attorney General’s review.” He has also suggested that James has higher ambitions.

Lavine specifically pointed to a tweet from last week in which Azzopardi slammed James, saying “she has said she may run against the governor.”

The Long Island lawmaker, chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, wrote that the statements are “difficult to comprehend” since he previously warned the governor that such actions could have a chilling effect on witnesses in his chamber’s impeachment investigation.

The Assembly announced last month it was issuing subpoenas as it looks into the harassment allegations as well as claims that the governor illegally used staff to help him write and promote a pandemic-themed book last year.

Also being probed are allegations that Cuomo helped family and friends get access to scarce coronavirus tests early on in the COVID-19 crisis, the potential hiding of the true number of deaths in nursing homes, issues with the Mario Cuomo Bridge and whether the governor knew of any attempts to suppress or obstruct related investigations.

Cuomo, who has denied any wrongdoing and resisted calls for his resignation, is also facing a federal investigation into how nursing home deaths were handled during the pandemic. The governor has repeatedly questioned the credibility of the probe since it was launched during the Trump administration.

When asked for comment about Lavine’s letter, Azzopardi referred to a statement from Cuomo’s acting counsel Beth Garvey.

“There is a clear difference between actionable retaliation and protected speech and it is clear that the Chairman doesn’t understand the difference,” she said. “We will have a formal response forthcoming.”

The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

James isn’t the only one of Cuomo’s fellow Dems that Azzopardi has targeted as the governor became engulfed in scandals.

He has accused state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli of gunning for the governor’s job after the fiscal watchdog called on the attorney general’s office to also probe allegations that Cuomo improperly enlisted staff to help with his memoir.

Azzopardi said that “both the comptroller and the attorney general have spoken to people about running for governor.”

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