New York Attorney General Letitia James will oversee an investigation with subpoena power into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo after the state’s top Democrat gave into pressure from his own party to agree to an independent probe, CNBC reported.
Cuomo’s office asked James on Sunday to appoint a private lawyer to conduct an independent review of the allegations. The lawyer will be designated a Special Independent Deputy Attorney General and have all powers provided under state law, according to the governor’s office.
Cuomo’s office on Sunday evening said it would cooperate fully with an independent review.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly,” James said in a statement Sunday evening. “We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.”
Cuomo’s decision to empower James to oversee an investigation into the allegations against him is a reversal for the governor. He had asked James and Janet DiFiore, chief judge on the state’s highest court, to choose who will oversee an independent probe. However, James rejected the proposal that she work with DiFiore and requested full power under state law to conduct an independent probe.
The back and forth with James and the decision ultimately to empower her comes after Cuomo backed off his first plan earlier in the day to appoint a former federal judge, who has a close connection to one of his top advisors, to oversee an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against him.
A slew of Democrats criticized the governor’s initial pick to lead a review and called for an independent probe of allegations after a second female aide came forward to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment. Some Democratic lawmakers also joined some Republicans to call on Cuomo to immediately resign.
Cuomo’s office initially said it would choose former federal judge Barbara Jones to lead the review. Jones had worked with Cuomo’s top adviser Steven Cohen.
The calls for an independent investigation follow a New York Times report published on Saturday evening that described the accusations of Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide to the governor, who said Cuomo had asked her about her sex life and whether she was monogamous in relationships and had ever “been with an older man.”
It was the second allegation against the governor in a week. Former aide Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development official, detailed sexual harassment claims against Cuomo last week, including a kiss without her consent in his Manhattan office. Cuomo has denied Boylan’s accusations.
Cuomo responded to Bennett’s allegations in a statement on Saturday, saying he intended to serve as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
Cuomo said in another statement Sunday evening that he has “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.”
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” Cuomo said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”