The Speaker of the New York State Assembly and the chair of the judiciary committee on Wednesday announced that the legislature had retained the white collar law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP to lead an independent impeachment investigation into multiple allegations of sexual harassment against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
“Since Thursday, Chairman [Charles D.] Lavine led a vigorous search for a top-flight firm to assist with the investigation. I have the utmost faith that Assemblymember Lavine and our Judiciary Committee will conduct a full and fair investigation,” Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said in a statement Wednesday. “Hiring Davis Polk will give the Committee the experience, independence and resources needed to handle this important investigation in a thorough and expeditious manner.”
According to a report from the New York Post, the Davis Polk investigatory team will include attorneys Martine Beamon, Angela Burgess, and Greg Andres (Andres is married to federal judge Ronnie Abrams, the sister of Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams). Andres was a senior prosecutor on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and was the lead prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“The addition of Davis Polk will allow my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee and me to fully and fairly investigate the allegations,” Chairman Lavine (D) said. “These are serious allegations, and they will be treated with fairness, due process and discretion.”
Those allegations have now been made by former Cuomo aides Lindsey Boylan, Charlotte Bennett, Ana Liss, Karen Hinton and an unidentified woman—who claimed Cuomo aggressively groped her at the governor’s mansion. Anna Ruch also accused Cuomo of making an unwanted advance at a wedding, though she had never met him prior to that encounter. Former Albany statehouse reporter Jessica Bakeman has also accused Cuomo of sexually harassing her.
Most recently, Bennett’s attorney Debra Katz on Monday revealed that her client told investigators that the governor is preoccupied with the “large size of his hands” and what this suggests about him sexually. Bennett met with investigators via Zoom for four hours. Since then, even President Joe Biden has weighed in, saying Cuomo should resign if the allegations are true.
“I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted, too,” Biden said, unprompted.
Cuomo has not denied that he made women staffers uncomfortable with his behavior in the workplace. Instead, he apologized for what he said was a misunderstanding of his intent and apologized if he had caused anyone pain. He said the allegation that he groped an aide in a sexually charged manner “is just not true.” He said he never touched anyone inappropriately and that he has “not had a sexual relationship that was inappropriate.” He has also said he will not resign.
Several journalists pointed out that Davis Polk has long-running ties to Cuomo’s powerful political ally and New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. The state’s highest ranking judge is married to Dennis Glazer, who practiced law at Davis Polk for 31 years and was a partner at the firm. If Cuomo were to be impeached, DiFiore and other judges on the New York Court of Appeals would preside over the trial (and all seven of those judges have been appointed by Cuomo).
“The court for the trial of impeachments shall be composed of the president of the senate, the senators, or the major part of them, and the judges of the court of appeals, or the major part of them,” New York impeachment rules state.
Katz expressed alarm about Davis Polk’s involvement.
“Political independence is fundamental to the integrity of the investigation. We were alarmed to learn that Speaker Heastie has hired Davis Polk to assist with the investigation, given the connection between Dennis Glazer, who spent more than 30 years as a partner at Davis Polk, and the Governor. This is an unacceptable conflict of interest,” the attorney for Bennett said in a Wednesday morning statement. “The impeachment investigation must operate free of political influence and must be transparent, detailing for the public the steps being taken to protect the integrity of their impeachment investigation. We already know the extent to which Governor Cuomo has surrounded himself with people in the Executive Chamber who enabled his behavior and swept evidence of sexual harassment under the rug. If there is even a hint of political influence in the impeachment investigation, it will taint the entire proceedings.”
“While Ms. Bennett is committed to cooperating with all appropriate governmental inquiries, including the impeachment investigation, the involvement of Davis Polk gives her pause. I suspect it will have the same effect on other women who were sexually harassed by the governor,” Katz added.
Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) rejected a proposal from Cuomo for her and DiFiore to jointly pick someone to investigate the harassment claims against the governor.
“The state’s Executive Law clearly gives my office the authority to investigate this matter once the governor provides a referral. While I have deep respect for Chief Judge DiFiore, I am the duly elected attorney general and it is my responsibility to carry out this task, per Executive Law,” James said in a statement. “The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted.”
AG James announced on March 8 that former acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Joon H. Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne L. Clark would oversee an independent investigation of the sexual harassment and misconduct claims made against Cuomo.
Matt Naham contributed to this report.
[image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
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