Gov. Cuomo apologizes, asks for independent review of sexual harassment claims against him

Gov. Cuomo apologizes, asks for independent review of sexual harassment claims against him

NEW YORK (WABC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked Attorney General Tish James to select a qualified private lawyer to do an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment against him, his office announced Sunday.

Cuomo released a statement Sunday evening conceding some of the things he has said “have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”

He added “to the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”

Cuomo said he “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm.”

This is breaking news. Previous story below:

There is a power struggle in Albany between the governor and the New York attorney general over a review of harassment allegations as the mayor is calling for the state to revoke some of his powers.

Amid increasing calls for an independent investigation into the allegations, Andrew Cuomo’s administration has asked the attorney general and the chief appeals court judge to jointly select an outside lawyer to conduct a thorough review and issue a public report.

Special counsel and senior advisor to the governor, Beth Garvey, released a statement Sunday that the governor’s office also wants the review to be “done in a manner beyond reproach.”

“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. The work product will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge. All members of the Governor’s office will cooperate fully. We will have no further comment until the report is issued.”

The move came after legislative leaders assailed Cuomo’s plan to appoint a retired federal judge to conduct the probe.

However, what the governor’s statement is calling for is not the referral James is seeking, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News. She said she does not accept Cuomo’s proposal.

The review by someone chosen jointly by James and the state’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, as the governor’s counsel called for, would lack heft since it does not include subpoena power.

James is seeking a referral to open a more robust investigation with subpoena power to compel witness testimony, documents and any other evidence.

“The state’s Executive Law clearly gives my office the authority to investigate this matter once the governor provides a referral,” James said. “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.”

It appears, so far at least, Cuomo’s office will not grant the NYAG the kind of referral she is seeking to conduct an investigation with subpoena power.

Democratic State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader, said through her spokesperson, “We support the AG and her call for referral.”

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand added her voice to the growing calls for James to handle an independent review with subpoena power.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for the State legislature to revoke Cuomo’s emergency powers amid the recent allegations against him.

De Blasio released a statement Sunday morning after a second aide came forward with sexual harassment allegations against the governor on Saturday.

“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. 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. And the investigation into sexual misconduct must be led by someone fully independent of the governor, not the former business partner of the Governor’s top advisor. 2021 must be a year of progress and recovery. These efforts for transparency must be met.”

MORE: Cuomo responds after ex-aide says he kissed her, suggested strip poker

The latest developments come after a second former aide came forward with sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Charlotte Bennett, a health-policy adviser in the Democratic governor’s administration until November, told The New York Times that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she had ever had sex with older men.

Her allegations come after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, recently accused Cuomo of subjecting her to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments. Cuomo denied the allegations.

Cuomo responded with a statement Saturday, saying he never made advances toward Bennett and never intended to be inappropriate.

Cuomo, however, said he had authorized an outside review of Bennett’s allegations.

“I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements,” Cuomo said. “I will have no further comment until the review has concluded.”

The mayor isn’t the only official to call for an outside investigation. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted Sunday morning, and called the details of the aides’ accounts painful to read:

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

Aside from the sexual harassment allegations, Cuomo is facing criticism for his nursing home policies last spring and summer.

The New York Department of Health commissioner testified before state lawmakers Thursday about COVID-19 in nursing homes, as criticism continues to mount over Cuomo’s handling of data related to deaths at such facilities.

“Yes there were deaths,” Dr. Howard Zucker said. “Too many.”

But Dr. Zucker denied that a March 25 directive to re-admit residents upon discharge from hospitals contributed to more deaths.

The embattled health commissioner said staff members brought the virus into nursing homes, and that 98% of all nursing homes in the state had COVID-19 circulating before the arrival of any patient discharged from a hospital.

Cuomo said last week that he and his team did the best they could during the worst of the pandemic.

“New York is number 34 in nursing home deaths,” he said “How is it so terrible of a job if it’s number 34 nursing home deaths, and we had COVID before anybody else.”

RELATED | Nursing home directive didn’t lead to COVID deaths, NY health commissioner testifies

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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