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New York Assembly hires top law firm for Cuomo investigation

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks before getting vaccinated at a church in the Harlem section of New York, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York’s Assembly has hired a Manhattan law firm to assist in its impeachment investigation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, legislative leaders announced Wednesday in a pick that was quickly criticized by at least two women accusing the governor of sexual harassment.

The Manhattan firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, which has more than 900 attorneys, will lead the probe, said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine.

The attorneys tapped to handle the investigation include Greg Andres, a former federal prosecutor who was on the team, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that investigated foreign meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“I have the utmost faith that Assemblymember Lavine and our Judiciary Committee will conduct a full and fair investigation,” Heastie said.

The firm is expected to investigate claims that Cuomo sexually harassed and inappropriately touched multiple women and complaints that his administration purposely withheld data on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes to bolster his image.

The appointment was panned by one of the women who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, Lindsey Boylan, who said she wouldn't cooperate with the inquiry.

“What would be the point of survivors talking to investigators of your sham investigation @CarlHeastie?” Boylan tweeted. “I am in conversation with other women who have no interest in your corrupt, cynical ‘investigation.’ Hard pass.”

Attorney General Letitia James is also investigating claims that the governor sexually harassed or inappropriately touched female aides.

Cuomo on Wednesday sought to use the two investigations as a shield, saying in a call with reporters that he was no longer willing to answer questions about his conduct with women while they were underway.

“At this time let the lawyers do their job,” he said.

Cuomo has denied touching any women inappropriately and has rebuffed calls for his resignation. He's also questioned some accusers' motives and lambasted politicians as “reckless and dangerous” for trying to oust him before investigations conclude.

President Joe Biden said in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday that Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, should resign if the state attorney general’s investigation confirms the claims against him. "I think he’d probably end up being prosecuted, too,” Biden said.

Asked Wednesday about the president's comments, Cuomo said “If you committed a crime, you can be prosecuted. That’s true. But what president Biden said is, ‘We should do an investigation.’ I agree with him on that. The people of New York agree with him on that.”

Cuomo cited a recent opinion poll of 805 registered voters that found 50% said he shouldn't resign. That polling might not reflect the latest public attitudes: Part of the poll was conducted before the Times Union newspaper in Albany reported an allegation that Cuomo reached under an aide's shirt and groped her.

Not all of Cuomo's supporters have deserted him. On Wednesday, Cuomo received his COVID-19 vaccination at a church in Harlem, where several Black leaders in New York City appeared at his side.

They included retired U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP's New York conference.

The lawyers assisting the Assembly's probe include Andres; Martine Beamon, another former federal prosecutor who is a partner in Davis Polk's litigation department; and Angela Burgess, who helps run the firm’s white collar defense and investigations group.

Andres was the lead prosecutor at a 2018 trial that ended with the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Trump pardoned Manafort shortly before leaving office in January.

Before his stint with Mueller, Andres was a top Justice Department official overseeing the fraud unit and a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, where he specialized in organized crime cases.

He is married to Ronnie Abrams, a U.S. district judge in Manhattan nominated to the bench in 2011 by former President Barack Obama.

An attorney for another of Cuomo's accusers, Charlotte Bennett, also objected to the selection of Davis Polk because of the firm's past affiliation with a Cuomo political appointee, Dennis Glazer.

Glazer was at the law firm for 30 years before his retirement. Cuomo appointed him to the board of a state university and a board that helped pick the sites of casinos. He is also the husband of the state's chief judge, Janet DiFiore.

“This is an unacceptable conflict of interest,” said Bennett's lawyer, Debra Katz. “While Ms. Bennett is committed to cooperating with all appropriate governmental inquiries, including the impeachment investigation, the involvement of Davis Polk gives her pause.”

Boylan tweeted that she believes the Assembly's decision to task its Judiciary Committee with investigating the governor “is not designed to be transparent or to move fast, and there’s nothing @NYGovCuomo wants more than time.”

“Many of us have not put our whole lives on the line for this crap. I certainly have not and will not,” she tweeted.

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Hays reported from New York. Associated Press writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.