Cuomo could face impeachment, local criminal charges, or civil lawsuits from his accusers
NEW YORK (WABC) -- Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation Tuesday, effective in 14 days, but he could still face local criminal charges or civil lawsuits amid accusations of sexual harassment.
The three-term Democrat's decision comes as momentum built in the Legislature to remove him by impeachment and after New York Attorney General Letitia James released the results of an investigation that found Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women.
Cuomo called some of the allegations fabricated and forcefully denying he touched anyone inappropriately, but the nearly five-month investigation found that Cuomo's administration was a hostile work environment "rife with fear and intimidation."
Anne Clark, who led the probe with former U.S. Attorney Joon Kim, said they found the 11 accusers to be credible, noting their allegations were corroborated to varying degrees, including by other witnesses and contemporaneous text messages.
James concluded the investigation without referring the case to prosecutors for possible criminal charges, but that's not where the story ends.
Will the New York state Assembly move forward with its impeachment investigation now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has resigned? Can the Assembly even continue the process?
Those remain open questions. The state constitution says a governor convicted in a Senate impeachment trial could be barred from holding public office in the state.
Democrat Tom Abinanti is an Assembly Judiciary Committee member. He says members are waiting to hear from Chair Chuck Levine about whether the committee will move ahead with plans to wrap up its wide-ranging impeachment probe in "weeks."
Abinanti said the committee has asked its lawyers if there's a "legal basis to continue with an impeachment investigation and issue articles of impeachment if the governor resigns." He says he hopes the committee will proceed with the investigation and make a full report.
Senator Julia Salazar, who represents Brooklyn, says the State Assembly "must go through the full impeachment process" to hold the governor fully accountable.
Some lawmakers like New York State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou believes Cuomo should be impeached.
"He can then still run for office, elsewhere, or again, and he can also continue to collect a pension," she said.
Possible Local Charges
Local authorities could use its evidence and findings to mount their own cases, and several attorneys general across New York have requested materials from the Attorney General's Office as they conduct their own investigations.
Possible civil lawsuits
Accusers can decide for themselves whether they want to bring a civil lawsuit.
A criminal prosecution is possible, if not likely, now that former staffer Brittany Commisso has filed a criminal complaint in Albany County. The governor made a point to deny those allegations on Tuesday, which were also contained in the AG's report.
"The most serious allegations made against me have no credible, factual basis in the report. And there is a difference between alleged improper conduct and concluding sexual harassment," Cuomo said.
New York state regulations say sexual harassment includes unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature - from unwanted flirtation to sexual jokes - that creates an offensive work environment, regardless of a perpetrator's intent.
Attorney David Schwartz says that so long as the governor is treated as an ordinary citizen, a criminal prosecution is unlikely.
"In most cases, under these sets of circumstances, the DA's office will tell the victim to handle it in civil court, sue the employer - sue the person that committed this type of forcible touching. That's where these cases go," Schwartz said.
Cuomo championed a landmark 2019 state law that made it easier for sexual harassment victims to prove their case in court. Alleged victims no longer have to meet the high bar of proving sexual harassment is "severe and pervasive."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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