Cuomo refers sexual misconduct investigation to state attorney general

Photo courtesy of the governor’s office via Flickr

Governor Andrew Cuomo has referred the investigation into his own conduct to state Attorney General Letitia James after two women have come forward with sexual harassment allegations in the past week.

The call for an independent investigation has picked up steam after Lindsey Boylan, former Chief of Staff for Empire State Development, and former aide Charlotte Bennett told their stories about alleged indecent proposals and pointed questions of a sexual nature in their interactions with Cuomo.

Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in Sunday morning following the revelation that former Aide Charlotte Bennett may have experienced similar inappropriate behavior from the governor who rose to nationwide relevance throughout the pandemic, only to meet with a multi-front battle against scandal.

“New Yorkers have seen detailed, documented accounts of sexual harassment, multiple instances of intimidation, and the admitted withholding of information on the deaths of over 15,000 people. Questions of this magnitude cannot hang over the heads of New Yorkers as we fight off a pandemic and economic crisis. It’s clear what must now take place,” de Blasio said.

In the first statement Cuomo has made regarding the matter, along with offering no personal Q&A with reporters in about a week, he said late Sunday that perhaps he reads the room wrong when he is being “playful.”

“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,” Cuomo said. “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.”

Special Counsel to the governor Beth Garvey issued a statement through the Cuomo’s press office near-simultaneously stating the an investigation would conducted through James’ office granting her the discretion to select lawyers herself after she rejected the state’s recommendation for the help of a former federal judge.

“The Governor’s office wants a thorough and independent review that is above reproach and beyond political interference,” Garvey said. “Therefore, the Governor’s office has asked Attorney General Tish James to select a qualified private lawyer to do an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment.  The independent lawyer will be legally designated as a Special Independent Deputy Attorney General and granted all powers provided under Section 63(8) of the Executive Law.  As necessary, other lawyers from the appointed lawyer’s firm shall be similarly designated to assist in the review. The lawyer shall report publicly their findings. The Governor’s office will voluntarily cooperate fully.”

James said just prior to getting the referral that she would not be taking the governor’s office up on their recommendations to appoint federal Judge Janet DiFiore to an investigative role in the inquiry.

“To clarify, I do not accept the governor’s proposal. 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.”

According to Cuomo, his conduct never extended as far as making physical contact or propositioning anyone for sex despite acknowledgement that some comments may have been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation” and stated that he would cooperate with the investigation.