Crisis Deepens for Cuomo; AG Wants to Lead Harassment Probe

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool, File)

The crisis enveloping Gov. Andrew Cuomo deepened Sunday as the state’s attorney general demanded he grant her the authority to investigate claims he harassed at least two aides 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.

Many of the biggest names in New York politics lined up quickly behind James.

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.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has frequently clashed with the governor, released a statement in which he decried “multiple instances of intimidation, and the admitted withholding of information on the deaths of over 15,000 people.”

“The State legislature must immediately revoke the Governor’s emergency powers that overrule local control. In addition, two fully independent investigations must be held immediately into the deaths at nursing homes and the disturbing personal misconduct allegations.

Precedence shows that investigations of the Governor must be completely independent of his office. The investigation into nursing home deaths must be free to examine campaign contributions from the nursing home industry,” the mayor wrote. He demanded an investigation into allegations “by someone fully independent of the governor, not the former business partner of the Governor’s top advisor.”

New York’s two U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and and Kirsten Gillibrand, both said an independent investigation was essential.

“These allegations are serious and deeply concerning. As requested by Attorney General James, the matter should be referred to her office so that she can conduct a transparent, independent and thorough investigation with subpoena power,” Gillibrand said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “There should be an independent review looking into these allegations.” She said that’s something President Joe Biden supports “and we believe should move forward as quickly as possible.”

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 questions.

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.

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.”

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