Josefa Velasquez, THE CITY
This article was originally published
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The governor is floating scuttling a fourth-term run — but top state officials aren’t biting, THE CITY has learned. Meanwhile, the Assembly moved toward impeachment as Cuomo’s top aide quit and an accuser detailed groping allegations on national TV.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been trying to cut a deal with top state officials, promising not to seek a fourth term if impeachment talks are scuttled — but no one is buying it, sources told THE CITY.
The governor and what’s left of his inner circle have been working the phones, fighting for his political life in the wake of the damning Aug. 3 report detailing the sexual harassment allegations of 11 women and what investigators found was retaliation against one who went public.
Cuomo, whose term ends Dec. 31, 2022, has ignored calls for his resignation as the state Assembly pushes ahead with the impeachment process, which lawmakers said could take weeks.
On Monday afternoon, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said he’s not entertaining any possible deals with Cuomo, whom he has not spoken to since February.
A source said Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, who resigned Sunday night, had been asking staff in the executive chamber for legislative strategies to quell talk of impeachment in recent days.
Her resignation came as a shock to those in Albany who saw her as the staunchest defender of the three-term governor and a merciless acolyte.
DeRosa, who is cited in the report released by State Attorney General Letitia James as leading efforts to discredit an accuser who’d worked for the administration, did not mention Cuomo in a statement announcing her resignation.
“Personally, the past two years have been emotionally and mentally trying,” said the 38-year-old Albany native, whose father is a top lobbyist in the state.
Her resignation came after CBS This Morning released a clip from an interview with Brittany Commisso, the unnamed Cuomo executive assistant who filed a criminal complaint charging he groped her breast. The network aired the full interview Monday morning, in conjunction with the Albany Times Union.
“To me this was a dream job. And it unfortunately turned into a nightmare,” said Commisso, who started working for the governor in 2017.
The Albany County Sheriff on Saturday confirmed that it was conducting a criminal investigation into Cuomo.
“From what I have read so far, I can say we’re floating around a misdemeanor, but again that’s just from the attorney general’s report,” said Sheriff Craig Apple, who noted that the office hasn’t conducted an “in depth interview” with Commisso.
‘Several Weeks’ to Impeachment
Meanwhile, an Assembly committee met in Albany Monday to lay more groundwork for impeachment proceedings against the governor, who has until Friday to submit any evidence in his defense.
Following a four-hour closed-door meeting, members of the Judiciary Committee charged with investigating whether there are grounds to impeach the 63-year-old governor emerged to announce that they were nearing an end to the process and that an impeachment vote could happen as soon as September.
“We anticipate this process will be concluded very soon,” said Judiciary Chairman Charles Lavine (D-Long Island), adding that it would take “several weeks.”
A chief concern shared by Lavine and other Assembly members who spoke with THE CITY is that Cuomo will legally challenge the impeachment process, which has only occurred once in the state’s history, more than a century ago.
“I understand there are some people who want impeachment voted on now to remove him from office. And I understand that. However, if we are not in a position to present our best case, he could very well win in the court of impeachment,” Lavine said.
“And for everyone who’s concerned about him being in office now, if he wins and he returns to office, unfettered, that is another danger,” Lavine said of the governor. “So it’s a matter of balance.”
The bipartisan judiciary committee will hold public hearings this month seeking testimony from sexual harassment and impeachment experts before it makes a recommendation to the Assembly on whether to move forward with impeaching Cuomo.
‘He is Lying’
As the Assembly gets moving, the State Senate — which would act as jury along with the seven-members of the state’s highest court — is in talks to hire lawyers with impeachment experience to help navigate the process, sources familiar with the discussions told THE CITY.
Even with top Democrats, including President Joe Biden, demanding his resignation, Cuomo has fought on.
On Friday, his lawyers offered a defense-by-Zoom, painting him as a victim of a political witch hunt as they tried to poke holes in the accounts of Commisso and Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to publicly accuse the governor of harassment.
Cuomo lawyer Rita Glavin suggested during an interview with MSNBC Monday afternoon that the governor, who released a video last week denying any wrongdoing, may soon again be speaking out in his own defense
Commisso, in the interview aired on CBS, charged that Cuomo groped her twice — first touching her buttocks on New Year’s Eve 2019 while she was at the Executive Mansion to help him draft his upcoming State of the State address. She said the governor grabbed her as they took a selfie.
“I then felt while taking the selfie, his hand go down my back onto my butt, and he started rubbing it,” she said. “Not sliding it. Not, you know, quickly brushing over it — rubbing my butt.”
Commisso said that the following November in the mansion he put his hand under her blouse and cupped her breast over her bra, after closing a door with the two of them alone in a room. “I exactly remember looking down, seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my God. This is happening,’” she said.
In the online defense, Glavin used slides to present a timeline that she said proved Commisso wasn’t alone with the governor on Nov. 16, when the report suggests the incident occurred.
But the report — in which Commisso was identified as “Executive Assistant No. 1” — notes that the aide told investigators that she did not recall the exact date of the encounter, which she recently reported to police.
Commisso called the governor’s denials “disgusting.”
“He almost has this smirk that he thinks that he’s untouchable,” Commisso said during the interview. “I almost feel like he has this sense of almost a celebrity status and it just — that was the tipping point. I broke down. I said, ‘He is lying.’”
If the Assembly proceeds with impeachment, Cuomo would be automatically removed as governor and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would take his place as acting governor while the trial is ongoing. Hochul, who briefly represented her home city of Buffalo in Congress, could become the first woman to lead the state.
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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