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Politics

New York State Lawmakers Prepare For Impeachment Proceedings Of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is refusing to resign after yesterday's explosive report from the state's attorney general. It detailed multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Cuomo. But he could still be forced from office before his term is up next year. Democratic leaders in New York state legislature say they will move forward quickly with impeachment proceedings. NPR's Brian Mann has covered New York politics for a long time, and we've asked him to talk us through how this impeachment process might unfold.

Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: To start with the basics, under New York's constitution, do these allegations amount to impeachable offenses?

MANN: You know, it's interesting, Ari. There really are no standards for what qualifies as an impeachable offense with the New York governor, so this is largely a political question. You know, do these lawmakers believe Cuomo crossed lines that warrant removal from office? The state assembly is going to take this up. And if a simple majority of those lawmakers vote to impeach, the process then moves to a second vote by state senators and judges. If two-thirds of those officials vote to remove Cuomo, he would be stripped of office. You know, we don't really have a timeline yet, but the process appears to really be accelerating. The chair of the Assembly's Judiciary Committee says he and a group of lawyers are already doing an intensive analysis of that AG report.

SHAPIRO: And as you read through this long report with an eye on possible impeachment, like, what do you see in the investigation and its findings? Any new takeaways?

MANN: It's pretty astonishing, really. This report describes incredibly personal questions posed to these women by Cuomo about their sexual lives. The report describes one bizarre incident where Cuomo allegedly ordered a young woman on his staff to do pushups while he watched. Documents show some of these 11 women believe they were being groomed by Cuomo. Interesting here, the documents also show a fight among Cuomo staff over how to contain these revelations and spin news coverage. These internal emails that we've been looking at show staff members debating whether Cuomo should try to sound contrite about his behavior or whether he should attack these women and media outlets that were raising the allegations.

And I should say, prosecutors in four New York counties now say they've opened their own probes into Cuomo's alleged misconduct. The office of District Attorney Cyrus Vance in Manhattan released a letter saying his office is asking the state attorney general for more information on what he describes as the unnamed victims of potential sex crimes.

SHAPIRO: Many of the lawmakers who will decide Cuomo's fate have been his close allies for years. How is that likely to affect the process?

MANN: You know, until the AG's report was released yesterday, there was a sense that a lot of his allies were sticking with Andrew Cuomo and that this impeachment process, which had already begun, was sort of being slow-walked in Albany. But as I mentioned, in the last day, we've seen many of those same allies call for Cuomo to step down. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, the Democrat who's really driving this impeachment process, issued this fiercely-worded statement saying Cuomo can no longer remain in office. And Heastie himself has promised this process will be swift.

SHAPIRO: New York is such a Democratic state. What role, if any, will Republicans play?

MANN: You know, Republicans have played a role highlighting these allegations against the governor. But really, Ari, this is a Democratic state, and the GOP is pretty powerless here. So this is going to be decided - the fate of Andrew Cuomo will be decided by his fellow Democrats.

SHAPIRO: Does anybody think he can survive this?

MANN: You know, his support has cratered, but Cuomo is part of one of the country's biggest political dynasties. He became a national figure during the pandemic year with those daily briefings. He's also known as a brutal and really stubborn political fighter who's shown no interest in resigning. So he's in this for a fight, but it's hard to see a path forward right now for Andrew Cuomo.

SHAPIRO: If he were to resign or get impeached and removed from office, what would happen at that point in the process?

MANN: Well, the state's lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, would take over as governor through next year's election. Hochul has already broken publicly with the governor and condemned his actions. She's widely viewed as a moderate Democrat from upstate New York. And interestingly, she would be the first woman in New York's history to serve as governor. And then, Ari, Cuomo's downfall would trigger a scrum of candidates vying to replace him on the ballot next year. And one of the top candidates could be Attorney General Letitia James, who produced this devastating report, a former ally of Cuomo herself. She has not said whether she'll run.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Brian Mann in upstate New York today.

Thanks, Brian.

MANN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.