New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) resigned Tuesday amid sexual harassment allegations, but he will remain in office for two more weeks, and a few local prosecutors have said they are looking into whether he violated any laws in their jurisdiction.
According to Fox News, under state law, Cuomo can apparently pardon himself pre-emptively, even though he may never be charged with a crime for his alleged harassment of at least 11 female state employees and staffers, according to NY Attorney General Letitia James’ damning report. The question is, will he do it?
Certainly, part of the reason Cuomo resigned is to avoid an impeachment proceeding and trial that will likely not go his way. That’s not to mention that such proceedings would parade his accusers before the public for weeks, if not months.
The disgraced governor continues to deny any wrongdoing and claims that generational and cultural differences led to misunderstandings with the 11 accusers. The worst allegation, that he groped an executive assistant’s breast and buttocks in two separate incidents, Cuomo denies ever happened.
Criminal charges likely?
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said last week that his office was investigating allegations from an assistant, identified as Brittany Commisso, that it could lead to criminal charges. Apple said Cuomo’s resignation would not impact the investigation.
District attorneys in Manhattan, Nassau, Oswego, and Westchester Counties have also said they’re investigating the allegations in a report by the state’s attorney general’s office.
Fox News contributor and former New York prosecutor Andrew McCarthy indicated that there’s no law saying Cuomo can’t self-pardon before leaving office to ward off any eventual criminal charges, but McCarthy thought it unlikely that Cuomo will take that route.
“I don’t believe Cuomo would pardon himself, because the groping crime he’s under investigation for in the Commisso complaint is (a) considered a misdemeanor and not very serious (i.e., it’s not considered felony sexual assault), and (b) he has vigorously denied the allegation and a pardon would be tantamount to a confession of guilt,” McCarthy said.
Will he do it?
Still, Cuomo may want to avoid the negative publicity (and legal fees) that a criminal trial could bring. His lawyers have already claimed he is being railroaded and also suggested that the AG’s report was inaccurate and politically motivated.
Hypothetically, Cuomo could easily claim that he doesn’t trust the legal system to give him a fair trial as a reason for issuing his own pardon, and continue to claim his innocence.
Voters in New York don’t seem to buy his claims, however. According to CNBC, a poll that came out on Friday showed that 70% of voters want him to resign and 55% believe he should be criminally charged.
It seems clear that public opinion played a part in his decision to resign, and knowing that a majority want to see him prosecuted could influence a decision to self-pardon, but only time will tell which path he ultimately chooses.