New York Attorney General Letitia James said Monday that her office is formally proceeding with an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo after she received the referral she needed to do so from the governor’s office.
In a statement, James said the referral gives her office “the authority to move forward with an independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment claims made against Governor Cuomo. This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously.”
James said Sunday she plans to “hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation” of the allegations two women have made against the three-term Democratic governor. The process of hiring and deputizing an independent counsel, who would have subpoena power, is expected to take a few days, her office said.
James said that when the review against her fellow Democrat is completed, “the findings will be disclosed in a public report.”
Under New York state law, the attorney general needs a referral from the governor to empower a special counsel, even though in this case the allegations are against the governor himself.
In the referral letter to James, Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior advisor to the governor, said Cuomo was waiving a provision of the law, Executive Law 63(8), which mandates that the attorney general and the governor both “receive weekly status reports on any investigation” opened under the law.
Garvey said that would not happen in this case “due to the nature of this review.”
The probe comes after two women stepped forward to detail allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.
Lindsey Boylan, a deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to Cuomo from 2015 to 2018, wrote in an essay posted on the website Medium that she’d been subjected to “pervasive harassment” while she worked for him, including getting asked to “play strip poker” and receiving an unwanted kiss on the mouth. Cuomo press secretary Caitlin Girouard called Boylan’s allegations “quite simply false.”
Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, told The New York Times in an interview published Saturday that Cuomo made several inappropriate remarks about her sex life, which she said she interpreted as an overture.
Cuomo denied the allegations, which NBC News has not independently reported, by saying in statement Saturday he “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
Bennett, 25, did not allege physical harassment. Reached by NBC News, she said The Times report was accurate and declined to comment further.
Cuomo issued a lengthy statement Sunday saying he understood “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,” he said in the statement.
His statement also added: “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.”
Cuomo initially said he was appointing a former judge to investigate the claims against him. He then suggested the state’s top judge assist James’ investigation before relenting to bipartisan calls for an independent investigation.
Bennett said in a statement to WNBC Monday that “It took the Governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice.”
Bennett’s lawyer, Debra S. Katz, said her client “will cooperate fully with the Attorney General’s investigation. We are confident that no disinterested investigator who reviews this evidence would adopt the governor’s self-serving characterization of his behavior as mentorship or, at worst, unwanted flirtation. He was not acting as a mentor and his remarks were not misunderstood by Ms. Bennett. He was abusing his power over her for sex. This is textbook sexual harassment.”
Bennett also called for any other victims to step forward if they feel they can.
“To the governor’s survivors: I am here. Lindsey is here. You do not have to say a single word. But if you choose to speak your truth, we will be standing with you. I promise,” her statement said.