The assembly spokesman draws fire as he tries to ease tension over the investigation into impeachment proceedings against Cuomo
A member of the State Assembly’s impeachment committee said he was concerned that the Cuomo administration might attempt to intimidate potential witnesses in an ongoing prosecutor general investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against the governor.
Meanwhile, statements by the congregation’s spokesman, Carl Heastie, sparked fire on the attorney representing one of the women who say Cuomo molested her.
The dispute began on Wednesday when Charles Lavine – the chairman of the congregation’s judicial committee overseeing the impeachment investigation against Cuomo – issued a serious warning to the governor’s communications director and senior advisor, Rich Azzopardi.
Lavine opposed tweets in which Azzopardi denounced a union leader who broke with Cuomo as a “blackmailer” and questioned Attorney General Tish James’ political motivations.
James is investigating multiple sexual harassment allegations against the governor and allegations that the governor used staff to help him write and edit memoirs for which he received $ 5.1 million.
Lavine said he had previously warned Cuomo and his staff not to intimidate or seek revenge against potential witnesses, and he said Azzopardi’s attempts to humiliate James “undermine” the investigation and send “deeply negative signals to witnesses “. Lavine warned that Azzopardi’s remarks could have “serious repercussions” on the judicial committee’s “consideration of the governor’s impeachment.”
Here is Assemblyman Lavine’s full letter on the subject: Public Comments on AG James by Governor Cuomo’s Director of Communications pic.twitter.com/IAQQEwO7dQ
– Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) July 21, 2021
Judiciary Committee member Phil Steck said he agreed and said Azzopardi’s statements were a “major concern”.
“Rich Azzopardi has a reputation for being a bomb thrower,” said Steck. “And in this situation, it’s just totally inappropriate.”
Cuomo’s private attorney gave a spirited response, saying Azzopardi’s tweets were not an attempt to suppress testimony. Attorney Paul Fishman said it was Lavine who acted inappropriately by threatening to punish the governor’s aides for “speaking on important public policy issues”. He also said Lavine was trying to suppress Azzopardi’s right to freedom of expression under federal and state constitutions.
Congregation spokesman Carl Heastie, who attended an independent event in Schenectady with Steck, said he was trying to remain neutral until the impeachment investigation is completed.
“I will wait for the results of this investigation and then I will comment,” Heastie told reporters.
James, whose investigators interviewed Cuomo on July 17, is said to be nearing the final stage of their investigation. But Heastie said if the final report finds evidence of wrongdoing, that by itself cannot trigger impeachment proceedings.
“I believe it should be part of the congregation’s review, but I don’t know if the report, even without completing the judicial committee’s work, should lead to a lawsuit,” Heastie said.
These statements sparked the ire of Debra Katz, the lawyer representing Charlotte Bennett, one of the women who say Cuomo sexually molested her. Katz accused Heastie of actively obstructing efforts to hold Cuomo responsible for his alleged actions, saying his statements were a “betrayal of the duties of his office” and demonstrate his loyalty to the governor to the “rule of law or the women who did it ”. bullied. ”Katz asked Heastie to withdraw his statement.
Debra S. Katz Statement on Recent Statement by New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie pic.twitter.com/h2Uihjj0DR
– Debra Katz (@DebraKatzKMB) July 23, 2021
Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland said in a tweet that Heastie’s statements were “misrepresented”.
The speaker’s comments are misrepresented. All he said was that upon receipt of the WG’s report, the Judiciary Commission should add it as part of their review, but should also complete its work as sexual harassment is one of several issues examined. https://t.co/fJ7OFj28W7
– Mike Whyland (@mwhyland) July 23, 2021
Whyland said the spokesman just wanted James’ report to be part of the impeachment investigation, but said the congregation was also looking into other allegations against the governor, including the book business.
Critics said the investigation into the gathering’s impeachment proceedings, which began in early March, is taking too long and that the gathering Democrats are stalling to cover Cuomo. Steck says that’s not true. He said the impeachment investigation was recently granted a subpoena and the law firm charged with conducting the investigation is now accepting affidavits from witnesses.
“I would definitely believe, hope and expect that we will be finished with our work on the Justice Committee this year,” said Steck. “And hopefully well before that time.”
An investigation by the U.S. Attorney General for East New York into allegations that Cuomo and his staff covered up the number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 is also ongoing.