The top lawmaker overseeing the New York Assembly's impeachment investigation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter Wednesday warned against criticizing Attorney General Letitia James' separate probe of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, and that doing so could have "severe repercussions" for the governor.
The letter comes after multiple instances of a top communications adviser to Cuomo has publicly suggested James' investigation is politically motivated and that she intends to run for governor herself in 2022, though James has given no public indication that she plans to do so.
Cuomo spokesman and communications director Rich Azzopardi has also decried leaks of details of the investigation, including the news late last week that Cuomo would sit for an interview with investigators.
Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Long Island Democrat, wrote in the letter the statements from the governor's office are "difficult to comprehend" and could have the effect of witness suppression.
“I am extraordinarily concerned with respect to the Governor's communications director's verbal attack against the Attorney General,” Lavine said in a statement. “Demeaning the Attorney General in turn demeans the Attorney General's investigation and at the same time sends an obviously intimidating message to potential witnesses.”
Cuomo administration acting counsel Beth Garvey in a statement said Azzopardi's statements fall under 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," she said. "We will have a formal response forthcoming."
Assembly Democrats earlier this year launched their own investigation of multiple controversies facing Cuomo, including the method in which his administration counted nursing home fatalities during the pandemic as well as the construction of the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing, and in recent weeks has said he was eager to tell his side of the harassment allegations. Prominent Democrats in New York at the federal and state level have called on Cuomo to resign.