Cuomo on the Brink: How to Impeach a Governor

Yves here. It’s going to be instructive, and if we are lucky, entertaining, to watch the walls close in on Andrew Cuomo.

Recall that when the story broke that Eliot Spitzer had been patronizing high end prostitutes, his resignation was effective seven days later. Cuomo is still oddly feared even though the Democratic party from top to bottom has turned on him. The attorney general Letitia James is still being awfully coy as to whether she will prosecute, despite publishing a damning 168 page investigation prepared by two outside law firms. I suppose the power players have to give Cuomo the chance to walk out with some semblance of dignity intact, but he’s such a street thug that no one expects him to do that.

He’s clearly impossibly damaged as a candidate for 2022. So the next question is whether the legislature will go to the effort of impeaching him. As this post lays out, one reason they might it that once the Assembly approves an impeachment resolution, the lieutenant governor takes over.

By Josefa Velasquez ( Originally published at THE CITY on August 4, 2021

Facing calls to resign and a bombshell report of sexual misconduct, Cuomo could become the second governor in New York’s history to face impeachment. Here’s what you need to know about a process that hasn’t been used in over a century.

The New York State Capitol Building in Albany. Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is bucking demands for his resignation, even as President Joe Biden leads calls for him to step down following a scathing report that found he sexually harassed 11 women.

If Cuomo doesn’t resign — he and his aides have privately said he won’t — the 63-year-old, three-term Democrat faces impeachment in the state Legislature.

The Assembly, authorized to draw up articles of impeachment, and the Senate, empowered to hold a trial, are readying to begin a voyage that New York has only taken once before. More than a century ago, Gov. William Sulzer was impeached and removed from office over charges he lied about campaign finance violations and used threats to suppress evidence.

With no modern precedent to rely on, the Democratic-controlled Legislature has little guidance other than what’s spelled out in the state Constitution. One thing seems likely: The process could drag into the fall.

Here’s what we know — and don’t know — about how impeachment would work in New York:

What’s the First Step?

Much like the path the U.S. Congress follows to impeach a president, the process starts in the lower house — in this case the New York State Assembly. In order to pass articles of impeachment, the 150-member chamber needs to approve a resolution by a simple majority vote: at least 76 members in favor.

Democrats control 106 seats in the Assembly, while Republicans hold 43 and one seat is independent.

If They Just Need a Simple Majority Vote, What’s the Hold Up?

The state Constitution doesn’t spell out what sort of conduct may constitute an impeachable offense — leaving it up to the Assembly to identify grounds.

In March, shortly after state Attorney General Letitia James launched an independent investigation into reports of sexual harassment by the governor, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie asked the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, to identify any basis for taking action on Cuomo.<

That probe, headed by Assemblymember Charles Lavine (D-Nassau County), is looking not only into sexual harassment and related alleged transgressions by the governor and his team. Also being examined: Cuomo’s handling of nursing home deaths at the height of the pandemic; reports he used state staff to help write a $5.1 million COVID-year memoir; and the safety of the reconstructed Tappan Zee Bridge.

The Judiciary Committee has a previously scheduled meeting slated for Monday, and the committee’s investigation is expected to wrap up within weeks. With a committee report or recommendations in hand, the Assembly could proceed to draw up articles of impeachment. That might take several weeks.

If the Assembly Votes to Impeach Cuomo, Then What?

Then the case goes to the High Court of Impeachment, the majority of which consists of all sitting members in the 63-seat Senate — with the exception of the senate majority leader.

Also serving on the High Court of Impeachment would be the seven members of New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, all of whom were appointed by Cuomo.

The 69-member body would serve as jurors during the trial. The Senate is required by law to wait at least 30 days after receiving the articles of impeachment to summon the High Court to meet in Albany.

Isn’t the Majority Leader Included in the High Court?

The Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester), is second in the line of succession and could be asked to “discharge the duties” of the lieutenant governor if the current governor is removed. Given her role, the state Constitution doesn’t allow her a vote because it could be a conflict of interest.

What Happens When an Impeachment Trial Starts?

As soon as the Assembly approves the impeachment resolution, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would automatically become acting governor while the trial is ongoing.

Because New York has only done this once before, there’s a lot we don’t know. Jurors would be required to “take an oath or affirmation truly and impartially to try the impeachment according to the evidence.” According to state law, no member of the High Court can act or vote on impeachment without having taken the oath.

The High Court will vote to set the procedural rules of the court, which only require a simple majority to pass. Those rules will dictate whether witnesses can be called and how evidence will be presented, among other items. The Assembly will also appoint impeachment managers to present the case for impeachment to the jury, which could be anyone, but will likely be members of the Legislature.

Is This Like Any Other Trial?

Sort of. Like any other trial, each side will likely present evidence and possibly call witnesses, but it’s hard to say how it might go. The governor would be allowed to retain his own lawyers to represent him in the trial.

Will Cuomo Have to Testify?

He might. The Senate has the power to ask him to testify. He could decline to testify, as Sulzer did during his impeachment trial.

How Long Will a Trial Take?

Depends. Could be days, weeks or months. It took the Legislature two months from the moment it began the impeachment process against Sulzer in the summer of 1913 to his removal in October 1913. The Senate trial lasted a month.

What Happens Then?

If two-thirds of the jurors, 46 members of the High Court, vote to convict, the governor would be removed from office. A sentencing vote requires a simple majority and can prohibit the governor from running for statewide office again in New York. Hochul would become the governor and have the power to appoint a new lieutenant governor. Hochul would remain governor through the rest of Cuomo’s term.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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    1. a fax machine

      For as bad as Newsom is, he lacks a serious alternative and the CA GOP refuses to stand behind a single candidate. Falconer stands the best chance, but Cox gets in his way by splitting the vote. Meanwhile CA Dems have done a good job of clearing the way for Newsom, including sending Padilla off to the US Senate where he cannot harm Newsom.

    1. Pat

      They really think that this is all to distract from support for Trump’s claims of voter fraud and the riot on January 6? Have they paid no attention to NY politics of more than the last decade?

      And for the record any group worried about Marjorie Taylor Green, even in regards to the fallout of January 6, has already lost the big picture…even if the possible ramifications of the election fallout is your priority.

    2. LowellHighlander

      Dear M005e,

      I went to the World Socialist Website and was immediately taken with their argument. As much as all those allegations of sexual harassment might merit removing Cuomo from office, the victims of said harassment lived to fight back. [And perhaps they could have sued him in a civil trial to obtain some kind of redress.] But when I think about powerless, and probably often, forgotten residents of those nursing homes and institutions for the mentally challenged (forgive me if I used an improper label here), I become enraged that the media and Democratic (and Republican) pols seem to focus mostly, if not exclusively, on the salacious acts. The most vulnerable adults in New York lost their lives because of Cuomo and his corruption (taking money from nursing home operator/owners, if I remember correctly). Obviously, Cuomo should have been impeached long before this current report was issued.

      I witnessed the same phenomenon – surely a sign of a decadent polity – while I was living in the Imperial Capital. My own union was corrupt from the top on down (although the vast majority of locals were headed by straight-up unionists who were fighting the good fight at their Federal workplaces). And it seemed that my local’s leaders could only raise interest amongst the mainstream media to cover the malfeasance of our national union when the story involved alleged sexual harassment by the guy at the top, J. David Cox. [The trade media, such as Fedsmith, are not included in my criticism here.]

      Of course, everyone rails against Watergate and what a great victory for the U.S. Constitution it was that Nixon was forced to resign. No, it wasn’t: Nixon ordered the bombing of countries against whom the U.S. had never officially declared war (think: Cambodia). That means he simply murdered thousands of innocent, probably abjectly poor, citizens of a neutral country. And yet what was the reason for forcing Nixon out of office? He violated the U.S. Constitution (in subverting it while he was supposed to be protecting it). As an Honorably Discharged Veteran, I say that our Consitution takes a back seat to the sanctity of innocent life in other countries. But I also know that kind of thinking would earn me the label of a “radical”.

      1. Tom Doak

        A year ago Cuomo was the Dems’ COVID hero but they desperately needed to avoid the topic of sexual harassment because of Tara Reade. Now it’s the other way around; they’re more vulnerable to criticism of their handling of COVID, so they’d rather it’s Cuomo’s harassment that’s in the news. The only principle involved is deflection.

        1. Dr. John Carpenter

          Bingo. His usefulness wrt COVID is over. People are starting to ask some uncomfortable questions about the reality of his dealings. Furthermore, Tara who? She’s effectively down the rabbit hole to the point where Biden can say Cuomo should resign and no one in the MSM bats an eye. It’s nothing to do with Trump. Cuomo”s usefulness has just changed positions and he’s gotten too big for his britches, so it’s time to send him to the farm.

      2. NotTimothyGeithner

        Always kick a man when he’s down. There may be worse crimes, but Cuomo blends a mix of nostalgia, fear of the GOP, and historical ignorance in a way other cretins can’t to get away with bad behavior because of his last name. He needs to be kicked hard.

        It’s like Biden and Hillary. A do nothing job and once hooking up with Bill Clinton helped move these people into the realm of myth. Biden-esque candidates without that sheen went nowhere.

        An opportunity has presented itself both to crush this monster, hit cable infotainment, and point out Team Blue supporters. It’s time to hit the gas.

        1. The Rev Kev

          ‘Always kick a man when he’s down.’

          I think that the quote that you are looking for is the one by James Carville-

          ‘When your opponent is drowning, throw the son of a bitch an anvil.’

    3. upstater

      If it takes a sex scandal to remove Cuomo, that is fine by me. The legislature is considering other substantive charges, most notably the nursing home deaths and his use of state employees to assist in writing his book.

      The cronyism and favors doled out to his benefactors are on a massive scale. The “Buffalo Billion” sent several of his closet cronies to federal prison. Two local developers also went to jail over the building of a still-empty LED factory in Syracuse. We also have a seldom used movie studio to compete with Hollywood. We almost got a $500M domed football stadium for Syracuse University that was only stopped because nobody consulted the mayor.

      Cuomo kept Republicans in control of the state senate for his first 2 terms by doling out patronage to members of the “independent democratic caucus “, 8 blue dog senators. Most lost primaries in 2018.

      Good riddance to this corrupt monster. Hope he has Harvey Weinstein as a cellmate.

  1. Matthew G. Saroff

    At this point, I think that Cuomo is following one of 2 strategies, either he thinks that he can wait it out, or he is trying to use his resignation as a bargaining chip to avoid criminal prosecution.

  2. Dean

    What are the odds that there’s at least one more serial harasser in the NY legislature?

    I wonder how well they’re sleeping these days.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Err…what are the odds there is more than one serial harasser in the leadership, never mind the legislature? 98% 99%, 99.9%? This has been the hallmark of Albany compared to other state capitols. I mean I just assumed this was the only reason there was a charade of an investigation. My guess is Cuomo promised to take everyone down with him, and the leadership jumped into line. There was too much smoke for it to go away, and the hope was it would go away like Covid.

      Probably the national party too. I mean he’s thoroughly loathsome and wouldn’t represent a loss of a governorship with a couple of loathsome individuals who could take over. Team Blue had nothing to lose getting rid of him.

      1. Brunches with Cats

        “Team Blue had nothing to lose getting rid of him.”

        And what do they have to gain? Based on his daily briefings early on in the pandemic, he gained something of a cult following, with calls to run for president. The nursing home and book scandals apparently disabused people of that notion (Cuomo once again being his own worst enemy) but I couldn’t help but notice how swiftly the media fawning did a 180 as soon as a popular movement appeared to be in the works, and we know that our press isn’t “free and independent.” Even though it was accepted as a universal truth that he was going to run for president, he must have shaken up the corporate Dems’ 8-year plan.

        While it looked like that plan was to clear the way for Kamala — requiring swift dispatch of Bernie — all the backroom dealing in the world couldn’t make up for her rank incompetence, and now it appears she’s falling out of favor, given recent WH “leaks.”

        So who are they clearing the way for now? James herself has been mentioned as a primary challenger to Cuomo — which could at least partially explain the coyness — but what else might be dangling in front of her as an incentive to do the Dems’ dirty work?

        Cuomo was right about a couple of things: politics clearly is a factor in his takedown (again, not that he isn’t perfectly capable of doing that himself), and politics is an ugly business.

        1. Michael Fiorillo

          Regarding the media’s treatment of Cuomo, and most other political figures, it’s fairly predictable ” At your feet, or at your throat…”

  3. bob

    The delay until the assembly vote works in Cuomo’s favor. He uses threats and intimidation. He and his ilk will be threatening everyone.

    The assembly tired to coup Sheldon Silver years ago. They gave him a few days notice. Big mistake. He spent the entire weekend calling his subjects in the assembly and saying “get your father on the phone or he won’t have a job next week”. I expect that and much worse from Cuomo for the next few months.

    They are leaving way to much time for Cuomo to work his sleaze. Probably by Cuomo’s own design.

    Even if they remove Cuomo from office, a few months from now, he’ll probably still be in charge. He has consolidated power so completely, top to bottom in the NYS gov, he’ll be calling the shots in Albany for years to come.

    1. Brunches with Cats

      I don’t believe Cuomo is powerful enough to defy the entire Democrat Party apparatus, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that he is. Wouldn’t that be precisely why they’d want to take him down now, before there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of his getting anywhere near the Oval Office?

      1. bob

        Yes, they’d better be careful of him taking over the party.

        He is defying the entire democrat party apparatus. As we speak. The president, a democrat, the 2 democrat senators from NY and a majority of the democrats in the legislature have all called for him to step down. He hasn’t.

        The best chance for NYS to get rid of him is for him to become president.

        All of these things have been true for a very long time.

        1. Brunches with Cats

          Refusing to step down the instant the report is released and they all unite against him — some, no doubt, only for public appearances — does not, in my mind, constitute defying the entire party. Indeed, it would have been stupid for him to do so before consulting his lawyers and thoroughly exploring his political options. I seriously doubt that any one of those calling on him to resign expected it to be immediate, either (nor would they, if they were in his shoes). Sorry if I implied that I did.

          Give it a week or two, and if they’re doing something, as opposed to just making a lot of noise, and he’s holding up his middle finger to them, then we can talk “defiance.”

          That New York should get rid of him by sending him to Washington is an amusing quip but not to be taken seriously. All the flaws the progressive left cites for why he’s a terrible governor would be magnified by a gazillion if he was in the WH. Moreover, among his dubious distinctions, he’s possibly the only well-known politician more polarizing than Donald Trump. Even the entertainment value in watching them go heads to heads (all four of them) in a presidential election doesn’t tempt me. To the contrary, it means the cat and I would have to do brunch under the bed for the better part of two years. Poor thing immediately starts howling and diving for cover when he hears Cuomo’s voice on the TV.

          1. bob

            Both senators asked him to resign months ago now. Biden just caught up with the rest of the party this week.

            You seem very out of date and naive of just how much of a bully Cuomo is and how politics have been conducted under the 10+ years of the cuomo reign.

            None of this is new. The only thing different this time is that the *gasp* President asked him to leave. I’m sure Biden is going to send his party muscle to NYC to set things right with the T-bird grease gang.

            1. Brunches with Cats

              A friend of mine has a favorite saying: “Opinions are like [a$$holes]; everybody has one.” Political comments are by definition “opinion.” I have simply expressed mine, without any need to denigrate your knowledge or state of mind. Since you’ve chosen to denigrate mine, I heretofore will not subject myself to further personal insult (not fooled by the weasel words “seem to be”) by replying to your comments.

              1. bob

                You talked right over every point I made. Your condescending tone is what put it over the top.

                “I don’t believe Cuomo is powerful enough to defy the entire Democrat Party apparatus”

                He is and he has been. Your opinion is contrary to the facts. He is still the governor and won’t leave. He has said exactly that, and he is still the governor.

                To begin with….

                I do think that the tone you strike is completely in line with the Credentialed Class of Opinion Havers. You are completely in your own reality. You get to pretend to be engaging with the facts when the premise of your facts is demonstrably false. And now I’m being a meanie for pointing that out.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Not happening. He was over as a Presidential candidate when Zephyr Teachout got 34% of the vote in a primary…as a first time candidate….and Cuomo had to spend IIRC over $5million when she’d spent only $200,000. It was an appalling performance and showed how much quiet resentment there is for Cuomo.

  4. DJG, Reality Czar

    I have mentioned before, in regard to other scandals, that transfer of power by means of sex scandal is a signal of decadence. There are laws and customs related to bribery, conflict of interest, misuse of public funds. Instead, the political parties–particularly the mainstream Democrats–want to rely on sexual innuendo, which is ironic given that they consider themselves feminists and sexually adventurous.

    Yes, there are times when sexual harassment may be enough (Harvey Weinstein), but trolling for sexual-harassment charges to eliminate one’s political adversaries isn’t enough. We’ve ended up with Clarence Thomas, accordingly.

    So I note this set of details: “That probe, headed by Assemblymember Charles Lavine (D-Nassau County), is looking not only into sexual harassment and related alleged transgressions by the governor and his team. Also being examined: Cuomo’s handling of nursing home deaths at the height of the pandemic; reports he used state staff to help write a $5.1 million COVID-year memoir; and the safety of the reconstructed Tappan Zee Bridge. The Judiciary Committee has a previously scheduled meeting slated for Monday, and the committee’s investigation is expected to wrap up within weeks.”

    Whatever anyone may thing of sexual harassment charges (not sexual harassment itself), these other charges are signs of spectacular corruption.

    1. Brunches with Cats

      “Whatever anyone may thing of sexual harassment charges … these other charges are signs of spectacular corruption.”

      In the spectacularly corrupt, cesspool of a snake pit of Albany, which is rated as one of the most-corrupt state governments in the country, if not the most. As others have pointed out, Cuomo is far from alone among politicians in sexual harassment behavior. He’s also far from alone in being spectacularly corrupt, and he knows where a lot of bodies are buried, both in New York and Washington. The prospect of his going to trial has got to have a lot of big, important people quivering in their boat shoes. If the dogs are called off, I wouldn’t be too quick to blame it all on intimidating calls from the governor’s mansion.

  5. Carolinian

    Nixon didn’t want to resign either until he did. Let them impeach and he will quit (my theory).

  6. dh

    She is not being coy about whether she will prosecute. The prosecutorial authority of the NYS AG is limited to certain classes of crime and direct referrals from the executive. In this case the executive referral requested a civil fact-finding inquiry, and that is the end of her authority, although county district attorneys (who do not report to her) are free to prosecute any crime committed in their jurisdiction, as the NBC story indicates. Their decisions are likely to be more political than hers. She has done her duty to the full extent of her powers in providing a roadmap both to county DAs and to civil litigators.

      1. Quill

        dh is correct about the authority of the NYS AG. I have looked for threats by then AG Cuomo to prosecute Spitzer and haven’t found any. The US Attorney’s office considered prosecuting Spitzer but decided not to. The Albany DA was in the process of prosecuting him, but dropped the proceeding when Spitzer resigned. Where do you see the NYS AG threatening to prosecute Spitzer?

  7. c_heale

    If he doesn’t quit this is going to cause a lot of damage to the Democrats. He’s lost all legitimacy. My guess is he will be made some kind of offer he can’t refuse behind the scenes by the party and will step down.

  8. bob

    Just a quick look at the CNN homepage now, Thursday night. There is nothing about Cuomo at the top. I have to scroll halfway down the page and look at the opinion section to see–

    “Cuomo may have doomed himself”

    “Andrew Cuomo’s cringeworthy defense”

    “What was Andrew Cuomo thinking?”

    Real investigative powerhouse here. I bet Chris Cuomo catches up with his brother and gets an Emmy for asking – “has cancel culture gone too far?”

  9. drumlin woodchuckles

    I can’t imagine the Albany ( and New York State generally) Depublicrats will permit Cuomo to be removed until they have settled on some equally corrupt successor to preserve and maintain the corruption without interruption.

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