• Fri. Apr 16th, 2021

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Cuomo’s office turns over sexual harassment investigation after Democrats question independence

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Sunday said it was asking the state’s attorney general and chief judge to appoint an independent investigator to examine the allegations of sexual harassment made against him.

The announcement came after top Democrats said Cuomo hadn’t gone far enough to ensure the independence of the inquiry into the claims, made separately by two former aides last week. Cuomo denied the allegations but said Saturday he had appointed a former federal judge to review them.

“The governor’s office wants a review of the sexual harassment claims made against the governor to be done in a manner beyond reproach,” Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior adviser to Cuomo, said in a statement. “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.”

“Accordingly we have asked the attorney general of New York state and the chief judge of the court of appeals to jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report,” she continued. “The work product will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the attorney general and chief judge.

Garvey added that “all members of the governor’s office will cooperate fully.”

New York Attorney General Tish James later Sunday said she did not accept his proposal as it does not give her office full authority over the process.

“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,” she said in a statement. “The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted.”

Earlier Sunday, James had asked Cuomo’s office to formally refer the matter to her office.

“Allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” she said. “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’ statement came after a number of prominent Democrats called for an independent investigation of Cuomo following multiple allegations of sexual harassment from former aides.

Former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, told the New York Times 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 he “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”

The governor also called for “a full and thorough outside review,” which his office said would be led by Jones, the ex-judge.

Bennett’s allegation is the second levied against Cuomo by a former aide since December. Last week, Lindsey Boylan, a deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to Cuomo from 2015 to 2018, expanded upon a December tweet saying the governor “sexually harassed me for years.” In an essay posted to Medium on Wednesday, Boylan detailed her experience, which she said included an unwanted kiss from Cuomo.

In a statement on those claims to NBC New York, Cuomo spokesperson Caitlin Girouard said: “There is simply no truth to these claims.”

Democrats said the initial investigation announced by the governor’s office did not have the appearance of true independence.

“No, I wouldn’t consider that to be independent,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “It should be, I would say, the attorney general of New York.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, “Sen. Schumer has long believed sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated, and that allegations should be thoroughly and independently investigated.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also on Sunday called for “an independent, transparent and swift investigation into these serious and deeply concerning allegations.”

“Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, tweeted Sunday. “There must be an independent investigation – not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General.”

Speaking with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden believes Bennett and Boylan “should be treated with respect and dignity.”

“There should be an independent review of these allegations,” she said. “They’re serious. It was hard to read that story as a woman. And that process should move forward as quickly as possible and that’s something we all support and the president supports.

Frank Thorp V contributed.