ALBANY, N.Y. (AP/WKBN) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the state’s attorney general and chief appeals court judge to jointly appoint an independent lawyer to investigate claims he sexually harassed at least two women who worked for him.
It was unclear whether the proposal would appease legislative leaders and other top Democrats who had assailed Cuomo’s initial plan to appoint a retired federal judge to review his workplace conduct.
“The Governor’s Office wants a review of the sexual harassment claims made against the Governor to be done in a manner beyond reproach,” Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, said. “We had selected former Federal Judge Barbara Jones, with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity, but we want to avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics.”
Garvey said the Democratic governor’s administration has asked Attorney General Letitia James and Janet DiFiore, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, to jointly select “an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report.”
Garvey said that report would be solely controlled by the lawyer doing the review.
The administration’s proposal came almost simultaneously with a statement from James calling on Cuomo to issue an executive order putting her in exclusive control of the inquiry. She said such a referral would empower to issue subpoenas, enforceable in court.
“There must be a truly independent investigation to thoroughly review these troubling allegations against the governor, and I stand ready to oversee that investigation and make any appointments necessary,” James said. “I urge the governor to make this referral immediately.”
The plan for James and DiFiore, who was appointed to her position by Cuomo, to choose an investigator jointly was met with resistance from James and legislative leaders.
Under state law, the state attorney general needs a referral from the governor in order to investigate his conduct.
A spokesperson for James called Cuomo’s idea of simply giving her a role in selecting the investigator unacceptable because that inquisitor would lack the ability to subpoena witnesses and documents, and would have to rely on voluntary cooperation.
Democratic State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader, said through her spokesperson, “We support the AG and her call for referral.”
The crisis now enveloping Cuomo’s office developed rapidly after a second woman on Saturday went public with a story about being harassed by the governor in the workplace.
Charlotte Bennett, a low-level aide in the governor’s administration until November, told The New York Times that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she ever had sex with older men.
Her accusation came days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, elaborated on harassment allegations she first made in December. Boylan said Cuomo subjected her to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments.
The 63-year-old Cuomo said in a statement Saturday he had intended to be a mentor for Bennett, who is 25. He has denied Boylan’s allegations.
Sunday evening, Cuomo released the following statement:
Questions have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office.
I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work and colleagues are often also personal friends.
At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.
I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.
To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.
That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations.
Separately, my office has heard anecdotally that some people have reached out to Ms. Bennett to express displeasure about her coming forward. My message to anyone doing that is you have misjudged what matters to me and my administration and you should stop now – period.