New York — For those hoping to game out the fate of Gov. Cuomo as he faces down an impeachment inquiry, one very telling place to start is among those who’ve inhabited his inner circle for years.
The departure of top aide Melissa DeRosa from Cuomo’s orbit had them chattering Monday about why she left and how it would impact the governor’s defense against sexual harassment allegations that threaten to unseat him from the Governor’s Mansion.
DeRosa, who served as Cuomo’s chief political confidante for years, announced Sunday night she was leaving — less than a week after the state Attorney General released a blockbuster report corroborating accusations that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, most of them state government employees.
DeRosa’s name appears nearly 200 times in the report, and while her departure led to speculation Monday among former colleagues about what precipitated it, there’s consensus among them that Cuomo is now left with very few options and will ultimately resign.
“If you’re talking about fierce loyalists, there aren’t too many left,” said one former adviser after DeRosa’s exodus. “There’s so many ways to look at this — all of it is bad.”
The source and two other former staffers who spoke on condition of anonymity said her departure could have been caused by any number of things — a clash between her and Cuomo over how to proceed, backlash from the governor over what she’s quoted as saying in the report, or an effort on DeRosa’s part to salvage a political career that many now view as essentially over.
The two may have come to view her departure as politically expedient for both involved, said one source, who added that “there’s one less lightning rod” now that she’s gone.
But that doesn’t change the fact that until he leaves office, more people around him are sure to suffer, the former staffer said.
“Until he resigns, no one is safe,” that source said.
Another former adviser said there are several possible explanations for her departure that are realistic.
“It might be like she sees the writing on the walls and is done protecting him, or it might be that he’s not listening to anybody, and she’s saying, ‘If you’re not going to listen to me, I’m leaving,’” the source said. “Or it could be a planned thing. She could feel it could take some heat off him.”
The source said it’s nearly impossible to imagine his former boss stepping down, but predicted that he ultimately would.
“I think he’ll wait as long as he can, but I think he’ll want some kind of deal,” the source said. “But I don’t think anyone really knows except for him. Everything else is speculation, and I think he’s the only one who knows the timing.”
The point of no return, former advisers and many observers say, is right before the Assembly votes on impeachment, but when that will take place remains unclear. Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine said Monday that it could take “several weeks” until such a vote takes place.
Under the state’s impeachment laws, Cuomo would be removed from office if the Assembly votes to impeach — that’s before a final outcome on the matter is decided by the state Senate and the Court of Appeals.
The prospect of making a deal came up several times in conversations the Daily News had Monday with former Cuomo advisers, who said the governor would be wise to pursue a deal in which he agrees to resign in exchange for not being prosecuted.
A fourth source said the denouement of Cuomo’s political career would proceed in much the same way his tenure as governor has — by the seat of his pants.
“They never planned ahead. Everything is last minute,” the former staffer said of Cuomo’s inner circle. “It’ll be the same thing with his resignation. He’s not going to go until the last possible moment.”
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