Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

ALBANY (TNS) — The potential criminal fallout for former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo from his alleged harassment of multiple women continued to fade this week when a second district attorney declared that their office would not file charges regarding accusations that Cuomo had inappropriately kissed two women on the cheek, including a state trooper who had been on his protective detail.

”Our investigation found credible evidence to conclude that the alleged conduct in both instances ... did occur,” Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah said in a statement. “However, in both instances, my office has determined that, although the allegations and witnesses were credible, and the conduct concerning, we cannot pursue criminal charges due to the statutory requirements of the criminal laws of New York.”

Rocah’s statement came a week after Nassau County District Attorney Joyce Smith said similar allegations investigated by their office also were credible, but according to her did not rise to the level of a crime under state law.

Lindsey Boylan, a former aide in Cuomo’s administration, had also accused Cuomo of kissing her without consent in his Manhattan office in 2018. Boylan and her attorney met earlier this year with investigators, including officials with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office, but no charges are expected in that case, either.

The narrowing chances of a criminal conviction from Cuomo’s alleged sexual misconduct may rest solely on the allegations of Brittany Commisso, an aide who has accused the former governor of groping her breast during a workplace encounter at the Executive Mansion in Albany a year ago. Cuomo, who has denied the allegation, faces a misdemeanor forcible touching charge in Albany City Court for that allegation, although it’s possible prosecutors could move to dismiss the case if they believe the evidence is problematic. An initial court appearance in that matter is slated to take place Jan. 7.

For the 64-year-old lifelong bureaucrat and politician, an acquittal or dismissal in the Albany case could lift some of the stigma related to the multiple scandals that engulfed Cuomo over the past year and led to his resignation from office in August. It could also open the door for his eventual return to politics, whether as an elected official or possibly an influential lobbyist who has navigated the maze of power politics for most of his adult life.

”I think it would take a really unlikely alignment of lucky stars for him to be successful,” Christopher B. Mann, a professor of political science at Skidmore College, said when asked about Cuomo’s potential to make a comeback.

”Is there a path? Absolutely: a multi-way primary in which you get kind of a circular firing squad dynamic of different candidates going after each other, (or) a primary in which he’s running against some other tainted or weakened candidate,” Mann said. “If he gets in with that type of scenario, he might be the lesser of evils.”

Another scenario Mann said could pave a way for Cuomo’s return: If Gov. Kathy Hochul were to win the June Democratic primary but lose the general election in November, “then Andrew Cuomo tries to make a comeback in 2026 that could change the narrative a lot. The ‘proven winner’ narrative would run to his favor.”

Other probes

Cuomo also has a formidable campaign account — roughly $18 million in the most recent filings.

”There are 18 million reasons why he can run for public office again if he so chooses; that’s a lot of money,” said Steve Greenberg, a longtime political observer and a spokesman for the Siena Research Institute. “You can run a serious campaign for virtually any office with that kind of money.”

Still, there are other law enforcement investigations that remain open and could bring criminal consequences for Cuomo. The U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn has been investigating the former administration’s handling of data related to COVID-19 nursing home deaths in 2020, when Cuomo was receiving national accolades for his handling of the pandemic and was striking a multimillion-dollar deal to produce a book about it.

State Attorney General Letitia James’ office is also examining the book deal, including whether state resources were used to produce the memoir. But that office, like the state Assembly’s impeachment investigation of Cuomo, appears to have abandoned an investigation into allegations that Cuomo’s friends and family members received secret priority COVID-19 testing in the early stages of the pandemic — at a time when many front-line health care workers were unable to access those tests. (The Assembly committee dropped that investigation as it became clear many lawmakers in that chamber also benefited from the priority testing.)

If neither the Justice Department nor James’ office pursues criminal charges, Cuomo still would need to overcome the damage to his reputation that resulted from the myriad allegations of misconduct. There was also harm to his reputation when his brother Chris Cuomo was terminated earlier this month from his job as a CNN anchor after evidence released by James’ office revealed the level of his behind-the-scenes efforts to assist his sibling, including using his journalism contacts to research the women who had accused the former governor of harassment.

”The fact that his brother’s media career has also gone down in flames, and those headlines about the Cuomo brothers and the tainting of the family legacy, doesn’t do the governor any good, either,” Mann said. “The ripple effects of this, which largely seem to have gone from Andrew to Chris, also come back in the other direction if Andrew Cuomo tries to make a comeback.”

Off the canvas

Cuomo also has made a comeback before. In 2002, he suspended his gubernatorial campaign as it faltered, leaving H. Carl McCall as the uncontested Democratic challenger against incumbent Republican Gov. George E. Pataki, who soundly won a third term.

Cuomo and his former top aide, Joseph Percoco, who was recently released from federal prison for a bribery conviction related to his work for the former governor, responded by crisscrossing the state and building support for Cuomo’s successful 2006 campaign for attorney general.

At a 2019 fundraiser in New York City, Cuomo reflected on his failed campaign for governor in 2002.

”The common refrain was we would be bolder and we would work harder to make real tangible change in real peoples’ lives,” Cuomo said, characterizing government as “incompetent” and adding that the public had lost faith in its ability to help them.

But Greenberg noted that in 2002 Cuomo merely lost an election, while this year he resigned in the face of overwhelming controversies.

”He has shown resiliency; like a great boxer he has shown the ability to get knocked down and come back up,” Greenberg said. “Does he have another comeback in him in his mid-60s? ... This is a case where as a third-term governor he resigned, and despite what he and his folks say there was no coup, there was no overthrowing of the governor. ... He resigned because he was awash in scandal. I’m not sure what constituency he’s going to convince that he’s the right person at the right time for the right office.”

There is also the potential for Cuomo to launch a congressional bid, including vying for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s seat should he step down in the coming years. But Cuomo, an attorney, is known more for his “executive demeanor,” and has never served in a legislative setting, Mann noted.

”He seems more likely to have a path to political relevance by being a behind-the-scenes power broker,” Mann said. “He’s been in and around Albany and state politics for his entire life. He’s well-connected. His persona with the public is much more problematic than his ability to work with various interest groups in a lobbyist type of role — because he knows people; he knows where the bodies are buried ... and he knows how the process works.”

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