New York Attorney General Letitia James
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
New York attorney general Letitia James said Sunday she was ready to oversee an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, but needed an official referral from the governor’s office that includes the subpoena.
“I am ready to oversee this investigation and make any necessary appointments,” James said in a statement. “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 powers. I request the governor to make this referral immediately.”
Cuomo’s office on Sunday withdrew a plan to appoint a former federal judge who is in close contact with one of the governor’s top advisors to oversee an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him.
The Cuomo administration said it would ask James and Janet DiFiore, the chief judge in the state’s highest court, to decide who will oversee an independent investigation. The decision would help “avoid even perceiving a lack of independence or inferring politics,” Cuomo’s special adviser Beth Garvey said in a statement.
“We will leave all decisions regarding the investigation at the discretion of the independent attorney chosen by the Attorney General and the Chief Justice,” said Garvey.
However, James said on Sunday that she would not accept the governor’s current proposal. She reiterated that she needed a referral in order to conduct an independent investigation and said it was her responsibility to carry out the task under state law once a referral was made.
The governor’s reversal came after 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 published Saturday night detailing 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 business development official, 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 progress on Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in an inappropriate manner”.
Pressure from democrats
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 believed the allegations “should be investigated thoroughly and independently.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., also called for an “independent, transparent and expeditious 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 the head of New Yorkers as they battle 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 must resign immediately.