Michael Goodwin: Gov. Cuomo only has a few weeks left in office. Here's how I think it will end

Gov. Cuomo can make noise but he has no real cards left to play

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was missing in action again Saturday, continuing a disappearing act that started when the state attorney general nailed him for sexually harassing 11 women. But count on hearing his roar soon, for hell hath no fury like a governor caught groping the help. 

New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim got the full blast of Cuomo’s wrath last February. The Queens Democrat had the gall to tell the truth about Cuomo hiding the full total of nursing-home deaths, a truth the governor couldn’t stomach. 

"You have not seen my wrath. I have been biting my tongue for months," Kim remembers Cuomo yelling over the phone. "I can tell the whole world what a bad person you are and you will be finished. You will be destroyed." 

Kim, of course, was not destroyed, and the incident serves as a good reminder that being the target of Cuomo’s wrath is not fatal. Especially now because it’s Cuomo who faces destruction. 

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The governor can make noise but has no real cards to play. His last, best shot was his video defense in response to Attorney General Letitia James’ damning probe into the sexual-harassment allegations, and it was disastrous. 

Cuomo’s lame pushback was basically this: I didn’t do it, but if I did, it was unintentional and I’m sorry. Just like my parents, I kiss lots of people in public and the investigators were out to get me and James wants my job. 

As Peggy Lee wondered, "Is that all there is?" 

Worse, Cuomo’s hole has gotten deeper since then. A lot deeper. 

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His already-thin support among Democrats in Albany and Washington has vanished, and public polling is collapsing. Seven in 10 New Yorkers told Quinnipiac he should resign, an increase of 11 points in just two days from a Marist poll. 

The state’s creaky impeachment machinery, last used in 1913, is moving forward amid reports there are enough votes in both houses, which are solidly Democratic, to formally charge and convict him, leading to removal. 

Then there’s the decision by five prosecutors to examine the AG report for crimes in their respective counties. Combined with the fact that one of his accusers filed a police report charging him with groping her, the growing possibility of criminal charges and arrest reduces his odds of a clean escape to near zero. 

Still, Cuomo has spurned demands he resign and insists he will fight on. He sent his lawyers out Friday to claim the report was unfair, wrong and that he had been "ambushed." 

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The mere fact that a sitting governor is silent while sending lawyers out to do his talking speaks volumes about the peril he faces. At crunch time, Cuomo knows he has become a liability to himself. 

The only possible avenue of escape is the slim-to-none chance he can sway enough legislators to hold off on impeachment. Given that James’ investigators found much of Cuomo’s testimony to them not credible, he’s not likely to change many minds. 

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If he fails — when he fails — his only remaining choice will be deciding how he goes. He can quit or endure conviction and removal. 

Despite all his tough talk, my guess is that Cuomo will pull a Richard Nixon. 

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The former president had no intention of resigning over Watergate in 1974 until three congressional Republicans, including Sen. Barry Goldwater, went to the White House to tell him he didn’t have the votes to save himself. 

In his 1988 autobiography, Goldwater writes that during the visit, Nixon realized "beyond any doubt that one way or another his presidency was finished." 

"None of us doubted the outcome. He would resign," Goldwater added. 

The next day, Nixon made the announcement and left the White House the following day. Although he didn’t want it to appear he was being forced out by fellow Republicans, he had no choice. 

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As journalist Fred Emery wrote in his book "Watergate," Nixon realized "not only had he ‘lost’ the congressional support of his own party and his natural allies among conservative Democrats, also that they would actually convict him at trial and remove him from office." 

That same scenario is speeding toward Cuomo. Barring major surprises, it will all be over in a matter of weeks. If he is arrested for groping, the end will come sooner. 

If he is convicted and removed, he will never again be allowed to hold public office in New York. 

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There’s a chance, again slim, that he could quit in exchange for a promise not to be prosecuted. 

Nixon, of course, was pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford, before he could be prosecuted for any Watergate crimes. 

History has judged the pardon to be the right one for the country, but it was very unpopular at the time and contributed to Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. 

There would not seem to be any chance Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who would succeed Cuomo as governor, could pardon him even if she wanted to, or that he could pardon himself. State law allows clemencies but limits a governor’s pardon power to several categories, including proof of innocence and to avoid deportation. 

Cuomo also would face other hurdles, especially the requirement to show "a substantial period of good citizenship." He certainly can’t pass that test, and any office holder impeached is not eligible. 

Restrictions aside, talk of a pardon offers a measure of how far Cuomo has fallen from his high horse. In a bit of political grandstanding in 2019, he signed a bill saying anyone then-President Donald Trump pardoned under federal law could still be prosecuted for the same crimes in New York. 

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"No one is above the law and New York will not turn a blind eye to criminality," Cuomo declared. The new law "gives prosecutors the ability to stand up against any abuse of power." 

Pot, meet kettle.

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