Prosecutor Greg Andres.
The New York State Assembly announced Wednesday that it had hired attorneys from a prominent Manhattan law firm – one of whom served as a prosecutor on the team of then Special Adviser Robert Mueller – to investigate Governor Andrew Cuomo’s impeachment investigation.
However, Davis Polk & Wardwell’s hiring was quickly classified as an “unacceptable conflict of interest” by an attorney for former Cuomo adviser Charlotte Bennett, one of several women who accused the Democratic governor of sexually harassing them.
Attorney Debra Katz said she was “alarmed to learn of the firm’s retention” and warned that doing so could affect Bennett’s willingness and the willingness of other Cuomo prosecutors to cooperate with the congregation’s investigation
Katz’s objection is based on the fact that the Appeals Court’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, who would serve as a juror on an impeachment trial against Cuomo, is married to former long-time David Polk partner Dennis Glazer.
Cuomo named Glazer to the board of directors of the State University of New York, Purchase.
And last month, Cuomo failed in his efforts to get DiFiore to conduct the investigation against him in collaboration with Attorney General Letitia James. These efforts were viewed by Cuomo as an offer to have some level of political leverage over the probe.
“The impeachment investigation must be free from political influence and must be transparent and describe in detail to the public what steps are being taken to protect the integrity of its impeachment investigation,” said Katz in a statement.
“We already know the extent to which Governor Cuomo has surrounded himself with people in the Executive Chamber who enabled his conduct and swept evidence of sexual harassment under the carpet. If there is any evidence of political influence in the impeachment investigation, it will be harmful. ” the whole procedure. “
Katz warned that Bennett “has an obligation to cooperate in all appropriate government investigations, including the impeachment investigation, but Davis Polk’s involvement gives her a break”.
“I suspect this will have the same effect on other women who have been sexually molested by the governor,” the lawyer said.
Cuomo, who denies wrongdoing, is under investigation by the congregation’s judicial committee on allegations of sexual harassment of aides and other women, as well as covering up Covid death dates related to nursing home patients.
The retention of Davis Polk & Wardwell was announced Wednesday by Congregation Speaker Carl Heastie and Justice Committee Chairman Charles Lavine. Both leaders of the assembly are Democrats.
Attorneys for the investigation include Davis Polk partner Greg Andres, a former federal attorney who worked on Mueller’s extensive investigation into people related to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian meddling in this year’s election.
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The impeachment investigation is different from an ongoing Cuomo investigation conducted by a team of other private practice attorneys overseen by James, the attorney general.
That team interviewed Bennett for four hours this week using Zoom conference call software.
In another investigation, police in Albany, New York were informed of allegations that Cuomo aggressively groped a current employee at the governor’s mansion after calling her there on the pretext of helping him with his cell phone.
Andres served as a prosecutor in the 2018 Virginia trial of former Trump campaign leader Paul Manafort, which resulted in a conviction on financial crime charges related to the Republican advisor’s work in Ukraine.
One month before leaving office in January, Trump pardoned Manafort, who had also pleaded guilty separately in another federal trial.
Andres was the subject of news articles during the Manafort trial when the federal judge in the case, TS Ellis, which the prosecutor had complained about, prevented him from asking vital questions to a witness, suspected that Andres was crying in court.
Andres denied he cried, and a number of lawyers said Ellis’ behavior toward the prosecutor was wrong.
In addition to his work on the Mueller probe, Andres previously served as a federal attorney in Brooklyn, New York, and in Washington, where he served as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s crime department from 2010 to 2012.
Davis Polk’s other attorneys hired on the Cuomo investigation include Angela Burgess, co-chair of the firm’s commercial defense and investigations group, and Martine Beamon, partner in the legal department who previously served as a prosecutor in the firm’s office US attorney for the southern borough of New York.
Only one New York governor has ever been charged: William “Plain Bill” Sulzer, who was removed from office in 1913 on charges of campaign fraud.
If the assembly, which has 150 members, 106 Democrats and 43 Republicans, indicts Cuomo, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul will assume the office of incumbent governor until the Senate completes a trial of Cuomo. The jurors in this process include not only senators, but also the seven members of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeal.
There are 43 Senate Democrats and 20 Republicans. Majority leader, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has called for Cuomo’s resignation.
If Cuomo is acquitted by the Senate, he would serve as governor again. To convict him, two-thirds of the jury would have to vote.
Heasties approval of the Justice Committee’s impeachment investigation last week came after a meeting of the Democratic caucus.
At that meeting, some members reportedly believed that Heastie’s attempt to clear an investigation, rather than immediately launching impeachment proceedings, should give Cuomo more time to politically bail out.
Other members reportedly deemed the move appropriate for the Attorney General’s office to conclude their investigation.
Heastie said in a statement Wednesday that Judicial Officer Lavine has been “conducting a vigorous search for a top-notch company to help with the investigation” since last week.
“The hiring of Davis Polk will give the committee the experience, independence and resources necessary to properly and expeditiously process this important investigation,” said Heastie.
Lavine said, “The addition of Davis Polk will allow my colleagues on the Judicial Committee and myself to investigate the allegations fully and fairly.”
“These are serious allegations and will be treated with fairness, due process and discretion,” said Lavine.
Governor Andrew Cuomo touches his nose during a visit to a new Covid-19 vaccination site on Monday, March 15, 2021, at New York State University at Old Westbury.
Mark Lennihan | AFP | Getty Images
In addition to Bennett, several women, including other former employees and at least one employee, have said that Cuomo sexually molested them, touched them in any other way, or spoke to them in a way they believed was inappropriate.
Cuomo has denied taking inappropriate action against a woman. But he has apologized for comments that he says he now understands that some women have felt uncomfortable.
He has repeatedly turned down calls to resign from individuals who include the majority of the Democratic members of the New York congressional delegation – including both US state senators – and over 60 Democratic members of the state legislature. The National Organization of Women has also called for Cuomo’s resignation.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said if the women’s allegations against Cuomo are confirmed, the governor should resign.
And when that happens, Biden said, “I think he’ll likely be prosecuted.”
Biden’s comments, beyond previous White House statements not about whether or not Cuomo should resign, were made during an interview with ABC News that aired on Good Morning America Wednesday.
Biden said in the same interview that “a woman should be assumed to be telling the truth and not become a scapegoat and victim for coming forward.”
“It takes a lot of courage to come forward,” said Biden. “So the guess is that they should be taken seriously. And it should be investigated. And that is exactly what is happening now.”
The New York Times on Tuesday detailed how current Cuomo employees attempted in December to get former employees to sign a letter attacking the credibility of former employee Lindsey Boylan, which appeared in several Twitter posts accused the governor of sexual harassment on Twitter posts. The letter was never published publicly.
Boylan sparked the current wave of allegations last month with a blog post detailing her allegations against Cuomo. She wrote that he kissed her once without her consent and jokingly suggested that they play strip poker on an official flight.