New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie drew sharp and immediate criticism for a comment he made Friday regarding the impeachment inquiry into Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with some saying his remarks to reporters indicated a desire to run interference for the embattled governor.
Speaking to reporters at an event in Schenectady, the Bronx Democrat said that when state Attorney General Letitia James releases the report from the independent investigation she’s overseeing into sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, it should be given to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which is conducting the lawmakers’ inquiry.
“I believe it should be a part of the Assembly’s review, but I don’t know if the report itself, alone, without the conclusion of the Judiciary Committee’s work should rise to an action,” the speaker said, according to the Albany Times Union.
Heastie’s comments set off a backlash from a lawyer for one of several Cuomo accusers. That, in turn, prompted his own spokesperson to claim the speaker’s comments were being “mischaracterized” in the media, with those comments drawing even more criticism.
Debra Katz, an attorney representing Cuomo accuser Charlotte Bennett, called on Heastie to retract his comment, adding that New Yorkers need confidence that the attorney general’s investigation, which is being conducted by outside counsel, will not end up in limbo.
“Speaker Heastie’s statement is a betrayal of the duties of his office and demonstrates that his loyalty is to Gov. Cuomo, and not to either the rule of law or to the women who have been victimized by the governor in clear violation of the law,” she said in a statement early Friday afternoon.
Back in March, when the harassment allegations began to mount, numerous Democratic lawmakers in Albany and the state’s congressional delegation called on Cuomo to resign. That included U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and state Senate President Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Heastie, though, issued a statement saying the three-term governor should consider whether he can effectively lead the state.
Minutes after Katz issued her statement, Mike Whyland, the speaker’s communications director, said on Twitter that his boss’ remark to a “speculative question” about an ongoing investigation was misconstrued and that Heastie “trusts” James.
“He simply said that upon receiving the AG’s report the Judiciary Comm should add it as part of its review but also be allowed to conclude its work because sexual harassment is one of multiple issues being investigated,” Whyland said in a tweet.
The Judiciary Committee is also looking at the administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic and allegations that Cuomo staffers sought to prevent the accurate reporting of deaths attributable to those facilities. In addition, the panel is determining whether concerns about a $5 million book deal for the governor to write about managing the COVID-19 crisis and a potential coverup of safety issues on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge warrant charges as well.
That led Bennett to speak out on her own on Twitter. If the attorney general’s report substantiates the accusations of harassment, then Heastie must act promptly.
“We don’t need to know (the number) of faulty Cuomo bridge bolts BEFORE removing a predator from office,” she said. “All facts are important — but some, on their own, warrant action.”
Friday’s back-and-forth overshadowed exchanges made earlier in the week between Assembly Judiciary Chairman Charles Lavine, D-Glen Cove, and Paul Fishman, an attorney for the administration.
On Wednesday, Lavine sent a letter to the governor claiming comments Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi made about James on social media earlier in the month that she may primary the governor were meant to “demean” James and sabotage the investigation.
“Any such actions on your behalf sends a chilling signal to any potential witnesses and such conduct may be considered by the committee as an attempt to suppress other complainants and witnesses from coming forward,” the assemblyman wrote.
The following day, Fishman sent Lavine a letter indicating Azzopardi wasn’t even talking about James or the investigations in the tweet but instead was criticizing a union leader who was no longer supportive of the governor
Fishman said Lavine took the comment out of context and said the threat of possible repercussions over the tweet raised free speech concerns.
“In fact, your letter – with its threat of sanctions against the governor – is the only link between Mr. Azzopardi’s tweet and the sexual harassment investigation,” Fishman replied.
This article was originally posted on New York Assembly speaker’s comments ignite war of words over Cuomo investigation