New York Attorney General Letitia James
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
New York attorney general Letitia James will oversee a subpoena into sexual harassment against Governor Andrew Cuomo after the state’s top Democrat pressure from his own party to agree to an independent investigation.
Cuomo’s office asked James on Sunday to appoint a private attorney to conduct an independent review of the allegations. The attorney is appointed as an independent independent attorney general and, according to the governor, has all the powers provided for by state law.
Cuomo’s office said Sunday night it would work fully with an independent review
Cuomo’s decision to authorize James to oversee an investigation into allegations made against him is a reversal for the governor. He had asked James and Janet DiFiore, the chief judge in the state’s highest court, to decide who should oversee an independent investigation. However, James turned down the proposal to work with DiFiore, demanding full authority under state law to conduct an independent investigation.
“I am ready to oversee this investigation and make any necessary appointments,” James said in a statement earlier in the day. “Given state law, this can only be achieved through an official referral from the governor’s office based on state law (§ 63-8) and must include subpoena authority. I request the governor to make this referral immediately.”
The back and forth with James and the decision to ultimately empower her comes after Cuomo withdrew his first plan earlier in the day to appoint a former federal judge who has a close relationship with one of his top advisors to investigate the oversee sexual harassment allegations against him.
A number of Democrats criticized the governor’s initial decision to conduct a review and called for an independent investigation into the allegations after a second aide came forward to allege sexual harassment against Cuomo. Some Democratic lawmakers also joined some Republicans in urging Cuomo to resign immediately.
Cuomo’s office initially said it would select former federal judge Barbara Jones to lead the review. Jones had worked with Cuomo’s top advisor, Steven Cohen.
The calls for an independent investigation follow a New York Times report released Saturday night describing the allegations made by Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide to the governor, who said Cuomo asked her about her sex life and whether she did it was monogamous in relationships and had ever “been with an older man”.
It was the second allegation against the governor in a week. Former adjutant Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development officer, released detailed information about sexual harassment against Cuomo last week, including a kiss without her consent in his Manhattan office. Cuomo has denied Boylan’s allegations.
Cuomo responded to Bennett’s allegations in a statement on Saturday, saying he intended to act as a mentor and “never make any progress on Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in an inappropriate manner”.
Cuomo said in another statement on Sunday evening that he “raised people about their personal life, relationships, about getting married or not to marry. I don’t mean insult and just try to be reckless of what is very serious business and add a joke. “”
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that given my position, some of my comments felt others feel in ways I never intended,” said Cuomo. “I admit that some of the things I said were misunderstood as unwanted flirtation. If anyone felt that way, I’m really sorry.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Cuomo should undergo an independent review of both allegations in an interview on CNN on Sunday. President Joe Biden supports this and “we believe we should move forward as soon as possible”.
A spokesman for Senator Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said the Senator believes the allegations “should be investigated thoroughly and independently.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., also called for an “independent, transparent and prompt investigation into these grave and deeply worrying allegations.”
MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., along with other Democrats, called for an independent investigation into the governor, led not by someone chosen by Cuomo, but by the Attorney General.
“Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed reports of sexual harassment by Governor Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a tweet on Sunday morning. “There needs to be an independent investigation – not one led by someone chosen by the governor, but by the attorney general.”
The new allegations also come after a January report that the Cuomo government failed to report thousands of Covid-19 deaths in state nursing homes.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, a Democrat, said Sunday that Cuomos state lawmakers must immediately revoke emergency powers overriding local scrutiny and called for two separate independent investigations into the sexual misconduct allegations and the undercounting Deaths in nursing homes.
“New Yorkers have seen detailed, documented reports of sexual harassment, multiple cases of intimidation and admitted withholding of information about the deaths of over 15,000 people,” De Blasio said in a statement. “Questions of this magnitude cannot hang over their heads as New Yorkers fight a pandemic and economic crisis.”
New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi praised the two women for their allegations and called on the governor to step down in a statement posted on Twitter Saturday night.
“The harassment of these former employees is part of a clear pattern of abuse and manipulation by the governor, and that pattern makes him unworthy of the highest office in New York,” wrote Biaggi.
Republicans again urged Cuomo to resign after the second allegation, including MP Elise Stefanik, RN.Y., who described the governor as a “criminal sexual predator” in a statement on Saturday and said he should resign immediately.