Former staffers to ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month were told by the new top counsel in Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration their legal bills would no longer be covered by the state, according to an email reviewed by Spectrum News 1.
The email, sent by Hochul counsel Elizabeth Fine on Sept. 2 to law firms representing former aides to Cuomo, stated the governor's office is reviewing the legal basis for approving the payment of past attorney fees.
At the same time, the governor's office will not approve new legal bills after Sept. 2, Fine wrote.
The email was sent amid ongoing investigations, including a probe into the former Cuomo administration by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
A Cuomo source this week said the lack of legal representation for former staffers amid the ongoing probe could undercut the coming report by the committee, which could be released in early October.
“Who is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars out of their own pocket to participate in a sham political report that has no real legal bearing?" the source said. "No one I know is doing that. Give me a break!”
But the top Republican on the Assembly's investigation, Assemblyman Michael Montesano, said in an interview Tuesday he suspects allies of the former governor are trying to undermine the wide-ranging legislative probe.
"There's no doubt in my mind," Montesano said of efforts to discredit the legislative investigation. "They couldn't do so much with the attorney general's stuff, and now they're on to us because there's a lot of stuff going on."
It's not clear how many former Cuomo staffers were having their legal fees paid by the state. It is also unknown how many former aides who were having their legal bills covered by the state were interviewed after Fine's email announcing public money would no longer be used.
Hochul spokeswoman Haley Viccaro confirmed in a statement the attorneys fees for former Cuomo administration officials would be denied after Sept. 2.
“We are evaluating and reviewing invoices for legal services rendered on or before September 2nd to determine whether there is a legal basis for the State to make these payments,” she said. “Relevant law firms were all advised that payment of invoices for any services rendered after September 2nd will be the sole responsibility of the represented individual employee, unless authorization is provided by the Attorney General pursuant to the Public Officers Law.”
Assemblyman Charles Lavine, the Democratic lawmaker who leads the Judiciary Committee, initially declined to comment through a spokesman.
After this story posted, Lavine said in a statement, "The New York State Assembly Judiciary Committee is making great progress preparing the report of its investigation of the former Governor. The Committee expects completion to be very soon.”
Cuomo resigned Aug. 24 amid allegations in a report released by Attorney General Letitia James's office he sexually harassed 11 women.
The Assembly committee earlier this year launched an investigation as a precursor to a potential impeachment.
The investigation drew in multiple controversies that faced Cuomo for much of the year, including allegations the governor's office provided preferential COVID-19 tests to those close to him when supplies were scarce, the reporting of nursing home residents' deaths, the construction of the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, the alleged use of government resources to help him write a book about the pandemic, as well as the sexual harassment allegations.
There are separate investigaitons being conducted by the state attorney general's office into the use of government resources to write the book as well as a criminal probe by the U.S. attorney's office reportedly into the nursing home fatality reporting by the state.
Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Aug. 13 announced the impeachment probe would be suspended in the wake of Cuomo's planned resignation. But Heastie reversed course days later, and the investigation resumed.
Montesano, the Assembly lawmaker, said Tuesday witnesses who are interviewed by the committee do not need to have an attorney present; the probe is not a criminal investigation. A status meeting with the committee and the law firm hired to lead the investigation is expected soon, he said.
The investigation has interviewed a range of witnesses, both inside and outside of state government in the days prior to Fine's email.
Montesano on Aug. 31 wrote a letter to Hochul's office urging her to cut off payments of public money to attorneys representing Cuomo.
"The repeated scandals of the Cuomo administration have been costly in the terms of the financial price to taxpayers and the credibility of the institution of government," he wrote in the letter. "As our 57th governor, you are in a unique position to remedy both those concerns."