Embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo found himself under increasing risk of impeachment over allegations of sexual harassment Thursday when the Democratic head of the state assembly -- until now a key ally -- greenlighted a formal investigation of the claims.
Since the end of February, the 63-year-old Cuomo, whose third term is due to expire in 2022, has been under scrutiny after five women accused him of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior.
But on Wednesday, the Times Union -- a newspaper in the state capital Albany -- reported explosive claims that Cuomo put his hand under the blouse of a female staffer and touched her "aggressively" at the end of 2020 in his private residence.
Aides to the powerful governor, who made a name for himself last year as a straight-talking pragmatist in the first onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, were obliged to notify the police of those claims, a spokesman told AFP.
The allegations prompted 59 Democratic lawmakers from the state assembly -- which has a total of 213 members, most of them from Cuomo's Democratic Party -- to join dozens of Republicans who have publicly called for his resignation.
After meeting with lawmakers, Democratic assembly speaker Carl Heastie said Thursday he was "authorizing the Assembly Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation" -- the first step towards an eventual impeachment.
"The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious," Heastie said in a statement. "The committee will have the authority to interview witnesses, subpoena documents and evaluate evidence."
That investigation will run alongside another probe already announced by New York state Attorney General Letitia James.
The governor did not immediately react to Heastie's announcement.
He has so far ruled out resignation and insisted that he never touched anyone inappropriately, though he apologized if he "hurt" any of his accusers.
Impeachment by the New York state assembly requires a simple majority in the lower house and two-thirds in the upper house. The last time it happened was in 1913.