State Assemblyman Charles Lavine threatened Gov. Andrew Cuomo with “severe repercussions” for interfering with his impeachment investigation after a top Cuomo aide publicly attacked another probe targeting the governor.
Lavine — a Glen Cove Democrat who’s leading the Assembly’s impeachment inquiry of sundry misconduct allegations against Cuomo — issued the warning in a Wednesday letter accusing gubernatorial adviser Rich Azzopardi of intimidating potential witnesses.
Lavine raised particular concerns about Azzopardi’s July 11 tweet criticizing state Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating allegations that the Democratic governor sexually harassed several women.
Azzopardi, Cuomo’s communications director, suggested that James’ probe was politically motivated given that “she says she may run against the governor” in 2022 — despite the fact that James has not explicitly said so.
“It is obvious that attempts to demean the Attorney General serve as well to undermine the investigation and send profoundly negative signals to witnesses,” Lavine wrote to Cuomo. “It is critically important to realize that any such comment may merit severe repercussions.”
Lavine’s missive was the latest development in the cascade of scandals that thrust Cuomo into a political crisis earlier this year, leading many state and federal lawmakers to call for his resignation.
As Lavine’s and James’ probes pressed on, Azzopardi — one of Cuomo’s most aggressive attack dogs — has dismissed the attorney general’s investigation as politically motivated in recent weeks even though his boss previously urged the public to let her find the facts before making judgments about his behavior.
In response to a New York Times report last week that Cuomo would be interviewed by James’ investigators, Azzopardi told the paper without evidence that “the continued leaks are more evidence of the transparent political motivation of the attorney general’s review.”
Lavine said Azzopardi’s tweet targeting James “extraordinarily concerned” him, noting that he had sent Cuomo a formal notice in March warning the governor and his associates not to intimidate or retaliate against any potential witnesses.
But a lawyer for Cuomo’s office shot back that Azzopardi’s tweet had nothing to do with James’ investigation and slammed Lavine for threatening to punish the aide for exercising his free-speech rights.
“There is no basis for your statement that potential witnesses in the sexual-harassment investigation would glean anything from this unrelated tweet, let alone view it as ‘an attempt to suppress’ their testimony,” the lawyer, Paul J. Fishman, wrote in a Thursday letter to Lavine.
“Punishing executive officials for speaking about important issues of public policy is not merely inappropriate, but is fundamentally inconsistent with the core values of our nation’s founders,” he added.
A spokesperson for James declined to comment on Lavine’s initial letter.
Lavine, whose North Shore district includes part of the Roslyn area, is leading a wide-ranging probe examining Cuomo’s alleged mistreatment of women in his office, his administration’s obfuscation of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, defects with the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, and reports that he had state employees help publish his memoir about the pandemic.
Both Lavine’s and James’ investigations have reportedly picked up steam despite neither official giving a concrete timeline for when their work will finish.
James’ lead investigators were set to interview Cuomo in Albany last Saturday, according to The Times. And on June 30, Lavine said the Judiciary Committee would issue subpoenas and had given its independent lawyers the authority to take testimony from witnesses under oath.