ALBANY, N.Y. — The head of the New York Assembly Judiciary Committee, Charles Lavine, warned Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter Wednesday that a tweet by spokesperson Rich Azzopardi suggesting Attorney General Tish James may be looking to run against the governor and undermine her investigation into his office could amount to witness suppression.
The Judiciary Committee is currently conducting a parallel impeachment investigation into the governor.
"This is exactly what they've always done. It's the bullying. It's the intimidation. It's the trying to discredit people and the fact that my colleague, Charles Lavine, had to even write that letter. It's outrageous, absolutely outrageous, and it speaks to the fact that this governor should not be in the position that he's in right now," said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.
Last week, Azzopardi made several comments about the attorney general, including suggesting leaks about the governor's interview with independent investigators came from her office. For his part, the governor has repeatedly said he's eager to tell his side of the story.
Santabarbara said Cuomo should not be mentioning the investigation at all.
"In my opinion, we don't even need any further investigation. I think there's enough for us to go forward, if he does not resign, to just impeach him," he said. "He thinks people have forgotten. He's trying to skate through. He's trying to discredit people that have accused him and he's been doing this all along and enough is enough. I think people have heard enough."
In a formal response to Lavin, Paul Fishman, an outside attorney for the governor, said the tweet in question did not even allude to the attorney general's investigation and was in fact in response to another topic completely: that Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen no longer supports the governor. It continued that Lavine's attempt to silence criticism of the investigation and threat of repercussions raises profound constitutional issues with regards to freedom of speech.
"I'd be more focused on conducting the investigation and less focused on what Rich Azzopardi is saying," state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said.
Ortt said he expects the governor and his staff to be defensive, but suggested Lavine should focus on the slow-moving Assembly probe.
"What I would say to the assemblyman is if you were spending more time on the actual moving the investigation forward, maybe you wouldn't have to worry so much about what the governor's saying because you would have movement. You'd have findings. You'd have a report. You'd have something," he said.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul meanwhile gave a mostly generic response when asked if she agreed with claims the attorney general's investigation has been politicized.
"I'm not going to speculate on anyone's motives at this time, but I will say what I said at the outset of the investigation that I have confidence in the investigation and the attorney general," Hochul said.
Ortt said his conference is prepared to return to Albany for a special session if the Assembly were to bring impeachment articles against the governor.