Next Up: Democrats’ Evolving View on Impeaching an Executive Who Has Left Office

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE N ow that Andrew Cuomo has resigned as New York’s governor, to take effect two weeks hence, the question naturally arises: What is to become of the state assembly’s impeachment investigation?

After all, impeachment has heated up since the issuance of state attorney general Letitia James’s report on Cuomo’s many alleged instances of sexual harassment.

Assembly speaker Carl Heastie (a key Cuomo ally until President Biden opined that the governor should resign) has indicated that impeachment is on track. The assembly has given Cuomo a deadline of this coming Friday to submit any evidence in his defense. And judiciary committee chairman Charles Lavine has maintained that, because full accountability is absolutely necessary, the assembly’s impeachment investigation has been wide-ranging: covering the governor’s reckless mishandling of COVID-positive nursing-home patients, the cover-up of same, his cashing in on the illusion of his visionary COVID-crisis management with a lucrative book deal, his improper use of state employees to write same, his arrangement of preferential COVID-testing for family and cronies when testing resources were scarce, and possible shenanigans in the construction of the Mario Cuomo Bridge (formerly the Tappan Zee Bridge).

On Tuesday, in fact, it emerged that in 2014 Cuomo had pressured the Obama White House in a futile effort to derail a Justice Department investigation of his administration. That called to mind the corruption evidence uncovered during that probe, which resulted in a six-year federal prison sentence for Cuomo’s top aide and confidant, Joseph Percoco. Taking the assembly at its word that Democrats were committed to full accountability — and that Cuomo-allied lawmakers were not adding things to investigate in order to help the governor stall (until the sexual-harassment report made that strategy impractical) — would the imminent impeachment articles also explore the corruption case, in which the governor himself barely escaped indictment?

But then early Tuesday afternoon, just three days after the Albany County sheriff took pains to announce that Cuomo is the subject of a criminal investigation for sexual assault (based on a formal complaint recently filed by Brittany Commisso, a state employee), Cuomo suddenly announced his resignation.

He’ll soon be gone. Kathy Hochul will be sworn in as the next governor. But does that mean the impeachment investigation is over, even though state Democrats have repeatedly said it is essential to the quest for accountability, to provide closure for the families of nursing-home victims as well as the sexual-harassment victims?

Well, it shouldn’t be the end, at least if Democrats meant the things they said only seven months ago.

Remember, that’s when they told us it was imperative to proceed with the impeachment of President Trump, even though he would be leaving office two weeks after the Capitol riot. It would not be sufficient to censure Trump, Democrats inveighed. Only impeachment would do — the impeachment of an official who would no longer be in a position to abuse the powers of the office he had abusively wielded.

Why? Because, Democrats asserted, Trump might run again.

No way, many of us countered; Trump is done as far as electoral office is concerned — his devoted following might want him to seek the presidency, but the political reality is that he is too damaged to win a national election.

Not good enough, Democrats countered. Trump needed to be barred from running again as a matter of law. Only impeachment could do that. Democrats stressed that, under the Constitution, the penalty for impeachment was not merely removal from office but disqualification from holding office in the future. It was vital to impeach Trump, they insisted, in order to trigger this disqualification — even if he was out of office, even if his acquittal in a Senate trial was certain, and even if impeachment proceedings would divert Congress from dealing with the nation’s pressing business in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

So . . . of course Cuomo, too, must be impeached, right?

After all, the New York State constitution’s impeachment provision mirrors the federal disqualification clause. Here it is, right there in Article VI, Section 24:

Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to . . . removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any public office of honor, trust, or profit under this state.

Don’t all the same Democratic arguments apply, then? Mustn’t the impeachment of Cuomo proceed, just as it was purportedly critical that the impeachment of Trump proceed? Indeed, under circumstances where Cuomo has not apologized, says he did nothing wrong, and persists in portraying his downfall as a political witch hunt, some of the governor’s admirers are already whispering that, after lying low for a while, he could run for another term next year — just as he had been planning to do. It would be the ultimate vindication.

To prevent that, won’t Democrats, ever the models of consistency, feel duty-bound to press ahead with Cuomo’s impeachment?

Yeah, right.

Understand what happened here. Cuomo would not have been facing impeachment if only Republicans wanted him out. The impeachment train was steaming down the track only because progressive Democrats wanted him out, and one of them, Tish James, was in a position to make the governor’s remaining in office untenable. Once she dropped the bomb last week, Cuomo’s Democratic-establishment allies swiftly abandoned him, and his resignation, in the face of otherwise certain impeachment, became just a matter of time — and not much time, at that.

Now that he’s gone, though, Democrats will have no interest in examining, for all the world to see, the serial misadventures and mendacities of a Democratic administration. Not gonna happen.

So cue the media-Democrat tape: We’re looking forward, not back. Besides, Trump is . . . um . . . different. . . .

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