New York lawmakers approve funds for Cuomo impeachment probe and potential trial

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ALBANY — A measure approving the use of state funds to pay for the ongoing impeachment investigation into Gov. Cuomo and a potential trial got the green light Thursday as lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session.

The bill, signed by the embattled governor late Friday, would grant lawmakers access to $156.9 million in money currently set aside to settle lawsuits against the state.

Cuomo has been swarmed by scandals in recent months, including multiple allegations of sexual harassment from current and former staffers.

Lawmakers in the Assembly launched an impeachment probe in March, contracting an outside law firm to look at the misconduct claims as well as myriad other alleged misdeeds related to the Cuomo administration’s handling of the COVID crisis and the governor’s $5 million book deal.

Cuomo has defiantly rejected calls for his resignation, coming from both sides of the aisle, and is currently planning summer fundraisers with an eye toward a run for a potential fourth term next year.

The bill approved Thursday comes weeks after Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Nassau) defend the $250,000 initial contract with the law firm Davis Polk, tasked with spearheading the impeachment investigation.

“It is not true that only $250,000 has been allocated for the entirety of the investigation,” Lavine said during a brief public update about the probe in late May. “Rather the Assembly puts an initial cap on its contracts in order to allow the comptroller to disburse that amount.

“The cap may be amended as needed and it will need to be amended here,” he added.

The new pot of available money can be used for “interviews, investigations and hearing necessary to inform the decisions” related to impeachment. The measure would also bar the governor from seeking reimbursement for funds spent to represent himself in an impeachment trial.

Cuomo, also facing an investigation by Attorney General Letitia James’ office into sexual harassment allegations and his book deal as well as a federal inquiry into the reporting of nursing home COVID deaths, has denied any wrongdoing.

Taxpayers are currently on the hook for a $2.5 million contract for “outside legal counsel” with the law firm Morvillo Abramowitz, which has been retained by the administration to deal with the federal probe. The contract was “approved and filed” on May 27, according to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office.

“The Executive Chamber has retained a counsel and that is a state expense,” Cuomo said during a Manhattan press briefing last week. “It has been in every investigation. That’s where we are now.”

It’s unclear exactly what’s next for the impeachment investigation as critics claim the process is being slow-walked.

The wide-ranging investigation is exploring multiple allegations of sexual misconduct as well as claims that the governor illegally used staff to help write and promote his COVID-themed book.

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

A majority vote for impeachment would set up a trial conducted by the state Senate in conjunction with the seven-member Court of Appeals, including two newly confirmed members hand-picked by Cuomo.

Lavine said last month that 75 individuals and entities with relevant information have been contacted or interviewed by investigators with the law firm of Davis Polk.

Investigators have reviewed “tens of thousands of pages of documents,” including emails, texts, photographs, personnel records and training materials, he added.

“I am very pleased with the progress so far,” Lavine said.