New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be questioned later this week in the months-long probe into allegations that he sexually harassed a handful of women including subordinates, sources familiar with the investigation told NBC New York.
In a statement after the news broke, Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi said "the Governor doesn’t want to comment on this review until he has cooperated, but the continued leaks are more evidence of the transparent political motivation of the Attorney General’s review.”
Azzopardi’s statement was at least the second time that Cuomo’s top spokesperson has claimed James, also a Democrat, and her probe were politically motivated. Azzopardi didn't provide evidence Thursday that the attorney general had leaked information.
It is expected that Cuomo will be questioned by Joon Kim and Anne Clark, the two outside lawyers leading the New York State Attorney General's inquiry, on Saturday, sources told NBC New York. A source pointed out to NBC News that Cuomo may have to be questioned again after that, should the investigators deem it necessary. No other details were immediately available.
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Legal experts have generally indicated that the governor would be questioned at or near the end of the investigation. However, it is unclear what stage the investigators are currently at, and how long it will take for them to formulate their report, which will be made public. There is no deadline for the investigation.
"They'll probably talk to him about what they've learned thus far. See what his reaction is," said former federal prosecutor Annemarie McAvoy. "You do try to get as much information beforehand, so it would make sense this is going toward the tailed. But they may still go back and talk to some of the women again based on what he tells them.
Investigators were always expected to speak with Cuomo, who said at the start of the probe in March that he would “fully cooperate."
A message seeking comment was left with Cuomo's lawyer, Rita Glavin. The state attorney general's office declined comment.
This latest development comes two weeks after lawmakers on the New York Assembly's Judiciary Committee said they would issue subpoenas to compel documents and sworn statements from witnesses, as they determine whether there are grounds to impeach the embattled governor who is gearing up to run for a fourth term next year.
Cuomo’s popularity has dipped this year: about 62% of voters said Cuomo should resign or not seek re-election in a late June poll by Siena College. Still, supporters point out that 61% of Democrats in that poll said they have a favorable opinion of him.
Speaking at a legislative committee meeting, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine said that the committee will issue subpoenas to help lawyers assisting with the legislative probe gather more records and interviews. Lavine said the law firm — Manhattan Davis Polk & Wardwell — will hold interviews under oath on the committee's behalf.
Cuomo faces multiple wide-ranging probes over allegations ranging from groping a current female aide to trying to boost his public image by refusing to disclose how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19 for months.
Several women have accused Cuomo of unwanted kisses, touches and groping and inappropriate sexual remarks. He initially apologized and said that he “learned an important lesson” about his behavior around women, though he's since denied that he did anything wrong and questioned the motivations of accusers and fellow Democrats who’ve called for his resignation.
He has rebuffed calls for his resignation and denied any wrongdoing, but apologized if he made anyone uncomfortable and for taking too long to release COVID-19 data.
During a meeting in late May, Lavine said lawyers had spoken with about 75 people and entities — or their attorneys — for the investigation. That was a small increase from April 21, when Lavine said investigators had spoken with attorneys for about 70 people and four government agencies.
The Judiciary Committee has released few details about its ongoing investigation, which was launched in mid-March. There has been no insight given regarding when the probe will end or if public hearings will be held.
Lavine said in late May that the Davis Polk law firm has reviewed “tens of thousands of pages of documents” — ranging from email and text correspondence, to photographs, personnel records, training materials and policies.
Lavine said previously that the firm has collected more than 100,000 pages of records.
Critics of the governor, including Democrats state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Ron Kim, have argued the investigation is being dragged out to buy time for Cuomo to get the probe behind him.
But some of Cuomo’s top allies in the state Legislature have called on the public to await the results of James’ investigation and not to undermine her integrity.
Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said he trusts the independent investigators selected by James, and said “their credibility and professionalism can’t be questioned.”
“There was a sense from people early on that because the governor was so instrumental in helping her become AG that she would then become responsive to his political needs,” Rivera, Senate health committee chair, said. “Now she’s proven over and over again that she’s responsible to the people of the state of New York.”
Manhattan Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, Democrat and Assembly health committee chair, agreed: “Tish James is not going to let anyone undermine her."
Sen. John Liu, majority assistant whip, called Azzopardi’s statement the “typical Cuomo playbook.”
“Obviously, Cuomo’s trying to undermine the AG,” Liu said, adding that the AG’s report and recommendations will "carry a great deal of weight” with lawmakers.
“Those kinds of comments, trying to run interference, trying to deflect, trying to implicate, at least politically — my read of it is that folks in the governor’s circle including the governor are at least nervous and at most running terrified,” said Liu, a Queens Democrat who, like Gottfried and Rivera, has called on Cuomo to resign.
This year’s legislative session has concluded, but lawmakers could return later in the summer or fall if the probe winds up.
“I think Tish James is being as thorough as she can, knowing that no matter what she will be accused of politics," Liu said.
Lawmakers previously passed a bill to ensure that the Legislature can tap into more funds for an impeachment investigation and trial. The Assembly Judiciary committee’s own probe has an initial budget of $250,000, which committee chair Charles Lavine said will likely increase.
The Assembly’s probe is focused on whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo over four main issues:
- Sexual harassment and groping allegations lodged against the Democrat by current and former aides.
- The administration’s efforts to withhold a full count of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
- The governor’s use of aides to help write his book on pandemic leadership for which he earned $5 million.
- His administration’s handling of safety concerns about the Mario Cuomo Bridge.
Lavine has said investigators are also examining whether the governor helped family members get special access to coronavirus tests in spring of 2020.
State Attorney General Letitia James is separately investigating the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, Cuomo's book deal and allegations that a former Cuomo aide who oversaw the state’s vaccine rollout pressured county leaders to support the governor.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are investigating the Cuomo administration's handling of nursing home COVID-19 data and whether members of Cuomo’s inner circle got rushed access to COVID-19 testing in spring of 2020.