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Cuomo Agrees To Give AG Subpoena Powers To Investigate Harassment Allegations

Attorney General Tish James
Attorney General Tish James
Karen DeWitt
New York Attorney General Tish James

A second woman has come forward and accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. Cuomo denies the allegations, but has agreed to make a referral to state Attorney General Letitia James to conduct an investigation.  

Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former executive assistant to Cuomo, who told her story to the New York Times on Saturday, joins Lindsey Boylan in accusing Cuomo of harassing, intimidating and inappropriate behavior.

Bennett says beginning last spring, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor began showing what she felt was an inappropriate interest in her, asking her in private meetings in his office questions about her sex life and whether she was monogamous in her relationships. Bennett says the 63-year-old governor asked her whether she had ever had sex with older men, and told her that he was open to having relationships with women who are in their 20s. Bennett requested a job transfer with an office on the opposite end of the Capitol building from where the governor works.  

The allegations come three days after Boylan, a former advisor to Cuomo on economic development policy, said that the governor asked her to play strip poker with him while on a 2017 business flight in Cuomo’s private jet. She says he also made inappropriate remarks about her appearance, and touched her without her permission, including delivering an unwelcome kiss while she was alone with him in his office. 

Cuomo, a Democrat, who is already under fire for withholding data that showed twice as many nursing home residents died of COVID-19 than was previously disclosed, denies both allegations.

He first addressed Boylan’s accusations back in December, when Boylan alluded to the incidents in a tweet.

“It’s not true,” Cuomo said, on December 14. “Look, I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has. But it’s just not true.” 

On Sunday evening, Cuomo issued a statement addressing Boylan’s and Bennett’s allegations, saying that while he never “intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” he admits that he does at times act playful and make jokes that he thinks are funny, and he says that he’s “teased” people he works with about their personal lives and relationships. The governor says he meant no offense but now realizes that some of the things he said were “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation” and that he’s “truly sorry” about that. But he says he never inappropriately propositioned or touched anyone. 

Cuomo, after initial resistance, also gave a referral to Attorney General Tish James, a Democrat, to appoint an investigator, with full subpoena powers, and Cuomo says he and his staff will fully cooperate. 

The AG’s January 28th report on the governor’s nursing home policies during the pandemic, which said Cuomo undercounted nursing home deaths by 50%, has already led to calls for investigations, and even for Cuomo’s impeachment.   

James, in a statement says, she expects to receive a 63(8) referral with subpoena power to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, “in line with our demands and New York state law.”

“This is not a responsibility we take lightly,” she said in the statement. “We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.” 

Republicans meanwhile are calling for the governor’s resignation. Senate GOP Minority Leader Robert Orrt, said in a statement that the sexual harassment allegations along with the nursing home controversy shows that the governor has “repeatedly broken the public’s trust.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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