Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been ordered to return the money received from his book deal to the New York attorney general's office within 30 days.
The timeline for the former governor to return the $5.1 million he received for American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from COVID-19 Pandemic to Attorney General Letitia James, whose Aug. 3 report arguing he had sexually harassed at least 11 women precipitated his resignation later that month, was determined by a 12-1 vote from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics on Tuesday, according to multiple outlets.
"JCOPE's actions today are unconstitutional, exceed its own authority and appear to be driven by political interests rather than the facts and the law," Jim McGuire, Cuomo's attorney, told the Washington Examiner. "Should they seek to enforce this action, we'll see them in court."
ANDREW CUOMO UNDER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION OVER SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIMS, CONTRACT REVEALS
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said the vote "had nothing to do with the law and is evidence of political attacks by the appointees of Governor Hochul, Speaker Heastie and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins."
"Ironically, these Hochul, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins appointees taking the position that staff cannot do non-governmental volunteer work on their personal time damns them and their own employees, who should now be held to the same standard for volunteer work on their bosses' re-election campaigns," he added in an email to the Washington Examiner.
A spokesperson for James said her office is reviewing the order.
"We are currently reviewing JCOPE’s vote and determining how best to move forward," the spokesperson told the Washington Examiner.
Some expressed skepticism of JCOPE's vote, which provided more details about the enforcement of the ethics body's November announcement that it would rescind its 2020 approval of the book deal, questioning whether JCOPE had the legal authority to order Cuomo to return the funds.
"If they had bothered to read the sections [of law] they cite, they would have seen there's absolutely no authority for issuing an order, whatever the order is," David Grandeau, an Albany-area lawyer and ethics expert, said. "It just doesn't exist in statute."
The New York ethics board's Nov. 16 vote rescinding the agreement marked a reversal of its stance just weeks prior allowing the approval to stand. On Oct. 19, the board voted 7-2 to undo the agreement approving Cuomo's book deal, but the measure required eight votes to pass. The ethics agency previously voted on Sept. 14 to allow the former governor's book deal to stand.
Azzopardi said the November vote showed JCOPE members were "acting outside the scope of their authority and [were] carrying the water of the politicians who appointed them."
"It is the height of hypocrisy for [Gov. Kathy] Hochul and the legislature's appointees to take this position, given that these elected officials routinely use their own staff for political and personal assistance on their own time ... They truly are a J-JOKE," he said.
In October, JCOPE approved an investigation into its authorization of the former governor's $5.1 million book deal, with even those who previously supported allowing Cuomo's approval to stand, such as Chairman Jose Nieves, who was appointed by Gov. Kathy Hochul following the resignation of Cuomo appointee Chairman James Dering, voting in favor of the independent investigation.
JCOPE has been the subject of scrutiny, with James issuing at least one subpoena in September for its records following an April referral from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to discover whether "public resources [were] used in the development and promotion of the governor's book." Cuomo insisted staff members volunteered to help, though his office conceded there could be some "incidental" use of state resources.
Though Cuomo resigned on Aug. 24 after James released an Aug. 3 report saying he sexually harassed 11 women, the former governor has denied a slew of allegations of wrongdoing, including the charges contained in the sexual harassment and ethics controversies. The New York state Assembly has apparently corroborated the findings of James's report, unearthing a twelfth accuser in its own Nov. 22 report.
The former governor and the state attorney general, once political allies, have been verbally sparring ever since James, who subsequently declared a gubernatorial run only to drop out of the race shortly thereafter, announced the findings of her report. In September, James slammed Cuomo for not taking "responsibility for his own conduct" after he blasted his ouster as "politics."
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In October, Cuomo was charged with forcible touching regarding an incident that allegedly occurred at the executive mansion, which he has said "never" happened in recent testimony. The former governor is expected to appear in court on Jan. 7.