New York’s two Democratic senators on Sunday echoed state Attorney General Letitia James’ call that she be given the power to investigate accusations of sexual harassment against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), rejecting the governor’s bid to appoint an independent lawyer to look into claims made by two women who worked in his office.
The statements come amid a growing crisis for the governor, just a day after a second woman accused him of sexual harassment. In an interview with The New York Times, Charlotte Bennet, who was an executive assistant and adviser in his office until November, said Cuomo had asked her a number of inappropriate questions. Her accusation came just days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, shared more details about her own allegations that Cuomo harassed her, including that he once kissed her without consent.
Cuomo, who has disputed the accounts, appeared to be trying to control the investigation into the allegations, and initially tried to appoint a retired federal judge who is close to one of his advisers to conduct it. He has since asked James and the chief judge on New York’s highest court to jointly pick an independent investigator.
“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,” Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, said Sunday.
James, however, has called for the case to be referred to her office, something only the governor can do.
In a statement on Sunday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called for full investigative power to be given to James.
“These allegations are serious and deeply concerning,” Gillibrand said Sunday. “As requested by Attorney General James, the matter should be referred to her office so that she can conduct a transparent and thorough investigation with subpoena power.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, also said he backed James’ call that her office be the lead investigator in the probe.
James has asked Cuomo’s office to issue an executive order giving her exclusive control over the investigation, which would allow her office to issue subpoenas that could be enforceable in court. She has argued that as the state’s “duly elected attorney general … it is my responsibility to carry out this task.”
“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.”
Cuomo’s office said later Sunday that it had relented to the demands, noting James would have sole responsibility for selecting an outside investigator and granting the subpoena power she requested.
Cuomo released his own statement on Sunday, saying he never intended to offend anyone, but, “at work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny.”
“I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married,” Cuomo said. “I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”
The governor said he believed his statements “may have been insensitive or too personal … given my position” and apologized if anyone “misinterpreted” them.” He rejected claims that he inappropriately touched or propositioned anyone in his office.
Other notable Democrats, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), have called for the investigation to be independent and led by James. White House press secretary Jen Psaki, a longtime Cuomo ally, also echoed those calls on Sunday, saying the allegations were “serious.”
“It was hard to read that story, as a woman,” Psaki said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”