A threat to punish Gov. Andrew Cuomo over an aide’s tweet through “severe repercussions” on his impeachment investigation raises serious “constitutional concerns,” one of Cuomo’s outside lawyers told the head of the probe on Thursday.
Former New Jersey US Attorney Paul Fishman, who the governor hired in March to defend him against sexual harassment allegations, denied that Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi was trying to suppress witness testimony when he suggested a related investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James was politically motivated.
In a letter to Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine (D-Long Island), who is leading the impeachment investigation against Cuomo, Fishman also said Azzopardi’s tweet was protected by both the First Amendment and the state constitution.
“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,” Fishman wrote.
“That would be true even had Mr. Azzopardi been criticizing the Attorney General’s investigation. Your threat to quash speech about an entirely different political matter makes these constitutional concerns all the more acute.”
Fishman’s letter came on the eighth consecutive day that Cuomo hasn’t held a news conference amid the ongoing COVID-19 — tying the mark he set between Feb. 22 and March 3 when his sexual harassment scandal erupted.
It also came five days after the three-term Democrat was apparently grilled as part of James’ probe into misconduct allegations made by a series of current and former female aides.
The letter was prompted by Lavine’s Wednesday warning that Cuomo faced “severe repercussions” over a July 11 tweet in which Azzopardi commented on an exclusive Post report about Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen saying he no longer supported the governor.
Azzopardi wrote that Samuelsen “is a political supporter of Tish James and she says she may run against the governor.”
On Thursday, Azzopardi tweeted a copy of Fishman’s letter and added the hashtag “#1stammendmentFTW” — misspelling the word “amendment” and apparently adding an abbreviation of the phrase “for the win” that’s popular with online gamers.
Lavine didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Westchester), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said “it appears that Cuomo is panicking.”
“The attorney general is conducting a professional, thorough and confidential investigation,” he said.
“The letter admits that the executive branch is conducting a campaign of criticism designed to undermine the attorney general’s investigation.”
Samuelsen said, “It’s comical to see the governor’s lawyer flimflamming about First Amendment rights while Azzopardi and other second-floor sycophants spend every day aggressively tamping down freedom of speech over even the mildest hint of Cuomo criticism.”
Samuelsen’s mention of the “second floor” was a reference to the location in the state Capitol in Albany where the governor’s offices are located.
State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) also said that Cuomo “and his associates should stop trying to deny their well-documented culture of bullying and intimidation.”
“Gov. Cuomo has refused to face the public and the press because he knows the attorney general’s report is coming — and based on their desperate, taxpayer-funded damage control, it’s going to be bad news for Andrew Cuomo,” Ortt added.
State Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy mocked Cuomo as “Mr. Emmy” over the award he won for his coronavirus briefings and called it “funny” that he’s “suddenly camera-shy since his 13-hour deposition.”
“While Cuomo stays in hiding, he’s using his taxpayer-funded hatchet man to do his dirty work,” Langworthy said. “It’s about time he got smacked down for his threats and intimidation tactics — his same old tired playbook is way past its shelf life.”