Capitol Watch: Cuomo-Nixon Debate, Trump Pardons
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon will square off in the first — and likely only — debate before next month's Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, Cuomo is urging lawmakers to pass legislation to make it clear that President Trump's pardon power doesn't extend to anyone charged with state crimes. An unintentional loophole in state law could allow someone pardoned by the president to fight state charges for similar crimes.
Here's a look at stories making news:
DEMOCRATS DEBATE: Nixon, a liberal activist, had accused Cuomo of ducking her demands for a debate before he agreed to Wednesday's televised event at Hofstra University on Long Island.
With Cuomo well ahead in the polls and in fundraising, the two-term incumbent has less to gain from appearing on the stage with Nixon. Four years ago Cuomo declined to hold even a single debate with his primary opponent, Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, now a candidate for attorney general.
Cuomo is expected to tout his record as governor with a particular focus on liberal accomplishments such as gay marriage, a higher minimum wage, paid family leave and the state's gun control laws. Look for Nixon to paint Cuomo as an out-of-touch political insider and bring up several recent corruption scandals linked to Cuomo's economic development programs.
The challenger sidestepped one potential line of attack from Cuomo when she released more past tax returns. Earlier this year Nixon had allowed reporters to review her 2017 return only — leading to objections from Cuomo allies who noted the governor has released forms dating back decades. The returns released on Friday covered the four years before 2017.
SPECIAL SESSION ON PARDONS? New York's ongoing investigations into President Donald Trump, his family and the Trump Foundation have long been seen as a sort of backstop to the federal probe being undertaken by special counsel Robert Mueller. Afterall, while Trump could potentially pardon anyone accused of a federal crime related to the inquiry, but that pardon power doesn't extend to state law or state crimes.
Except it may not be that simple. Disgraced former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, sounded the alarm in April about an unintentional loophole in state law that could allow anyone pardoned by the president to fight similar charges in state court. The wrinkle was discovered in the state's double jeopardy law, which protects people from repeat prosecutions for the same allegations. The law contains several exceptions, such as one allowing state prosecutors to bring charges when a court has nullified an earlier federal trial. But it does not include an exception specifically allowing a state prosecution when a president has issued a pardon for similar federal charges.
That means anyone pardoned by the president and facing charges in New York could argue that without a specific exception to double jeopardy, the charges can't stick.
Schneiderman's successor, Democrat Barbara Underwood, has urged passage of legislation that would clarify the law to eliminate the loophole. And on Thursday Cuomo repeated the call, urging lawmakers to quickly approve the bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat and a former prosecutor.
"It is common sense and basic fairness that people be held accountable for their actions, and this bill simply allows that to be the case," Kaminsky said.
But Cuomo stopped short of calling for a special session. Otherwise, lawmakers aren't expected back in Albany until January.
"We remain in discussions with the legislature on the proposal and any amendments that may be necessary for both houses to reach consensus and pass the bill," said Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever.
The Republican-led Senate is one stumbling block. The chamber's leaders have so far balked at requests for special sessions on other topics, including the extension of a program authorizing school zone speed cameras in New York City.
A spokesman for Senate Republicans did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Aug. 27: The state Assembly will hold a public hearing on water quality in Long Island Sound in Manhasset.
Sept. 6: The state Senate holds a hearing on the state's minority- and women-owned business program in Mineola on Long Island.