Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces “severe repercussions” over a tweet in which his spokesman suggested a sexual harassment probe of his boss was politically motivated, the head of the Assembly’s impeachment investigation warned Wednesday.
In a letter to Cuomo, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine (D-Long Island) said it was “difficult for me to comprehend” why his communications director, Rich Azzopardi, tweeted earlier this month that Attorney General Letitia James “says she may run against the governor.”
Lavine noted that he formally instructed Cuomo on March 15 that “neither you nor anyone associated with you” should engage in witness intimidation or retaliation and that James was “conducting a parallel investigation” to his committee’s impeachment probe.
“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.
“It is critically important to realize that any such comment may merit severe repercussions.”
In a prepared statement, Lavine also said he was “extraordinarily concerned” by Azzopardi’s “verbal attack” on James, saying it “sends an obviously intimidating message to potential witnesses.”
Azzopardi’s July 11 tweet came in response to an exclusive Post report that revealed the head of the powerful Transport Workers Union International said he was “over” Cuomo and had skipped a recent fundraiser attended by other labor leaders.
“Am I considering an alternative to Cuomo for governor? Absolutely. Definitely,” TWU President John Samuelsen said.
Less than two hours after the story was posted online, Azzopardi tweeted that Samuelsen “is trying to undo pension reform.”
“We also understand he is a political supporter of Tish James and she says she may run against the governor, and he wants more benefits in his contract. Everyone gets that,” Azzopardi added.
In March, James hired outside lawyers to conduct an independent investigation into allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed a series of current and formal female aides.
Cuomo was scheduled to be grilled by the lawyers on Saturday, when he spent nearly 13 hours in Manhattan and apparently met with them via Zoom, as some of his accusers have said they did previously.
Cuomo, who hasn’t held a news conference since then, has denied any wrongdoing.
In a prepared statement Wednesday, Cuomo’s acting counsel, Beth Garvey, defended Azzopardi’s tweet by invoking his First Amendment right to free speech.
“There is a clear difference between actionable retaliation and protected speech and it is clear that the Chairman doesn’t understand the difference,” Garvey said.
“We will have a formal response forthcoming.”