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Crisis deepens for Cuomo; AG wants to lead harassment probe

Cuomo Sexual Harassment
Posted at 1:44 PM, Feb 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-28 16:44:45-05

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The crisis enveloping Gov. Andrew Cuomo deepened Sunday as the state’s attorney general demanded he grant her the authority to investigate claims he sexually harassed at least two women who worked for him.

Democrats statewide appeared to be abandoning Cuomo in large numbers as Attorney General Letitia James rejected two proposals by the governor for an investigation of his conduct.

Under the governor’s first plan, announced Saturday evening, a retired federal judge would have reviewed his workplace behavior. In the second proposal, announced Sunday morning in an attempt to appease legislative leaders, Cuomo said he had asked James and the state’s chief appeals court judge, Janet DiFiore, to jointly appoint a lawyer to investigate the claims and issue a public report.

But James said that plan didn’t go far enough, either.

“I do not accept the governor’s proposal,” she said. “The state’s Executive Law clearly gives my office the authority to investigate this matter once the governor provides a referral. While I have deep respect for Chief Judge DiFiore, I am the duly elected attorney general and it is my responsibility to carry out this task, per Executive Law. The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted.”

The governor’s office didn’t immediately comment.

The plan for James and DiFiore, who was appointed to her position by Cuomo, to choose an investigator jointly, also met a cascade of criticism from fellow Democrats who called for him to relinquish all control of the investigation to James.

Under state law, the state attorney general needs a referral from the governor in order to investigate his conduct.

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader and a Democrat from suburban Westchester County, said through her spokesperson, “We support the AG and her call for referral.”

The calls for an investigation into Cuomo’s workplace behavior intensified after a second former employee of his administration went public Saturday with claims she had been harassed by the governor.

Charlotte Bennett, a low-level aide in the governor’s administration until November, told The New York Times that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questionsabout 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 kissand 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.

A group of more than a dozen Democratic women in the state Assembly said in a statement: “The Governor’s proposal to appoint someone who is not independently elected, has no subpoena authority, and no prosecutorial authority is inadequate.”

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, said on Twitter, “As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee I think it’s wholly inappropriate for Chief Judge DiFiore -- who was appointed by the Governor and who would have a constitutional role in potential future proceedings -- to be part of the investigation process.”

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island, tweeted, “The NY Attorney General should not need a referral to begin a criminal investigation. This is an issue I have been working on for some time, and will be introducing legislation tomorrow.”


Matthews reported from New York City.