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Facing criticism, AG James says harassment claim against top aide was credible

New York State Attorney General Tish James announces a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump and his three adult children on Sept. 21, 2022.
NYS AG screenshot
New York State Attorney General Tish James announces a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump and his three adult children on Sept. 21, 2022.

New York Attorney General Tish James is rejecting criticism that her office didn’t take sexual harassment allegations against her longtime chief of staff seriously. The Democrat released a statement Wednesday afternoon as the New York Times published a storyquoting one of the women who accuses Ibrahim Khan of misconduct.

Khan resigned after a decade with James last week when the claims — which were said to be credible — emerged.

Sofia Quintanar tells the Times she was touched inappropriately and kissed against her will by Khan outside a Brooklyn bar in 2021. The allegations came out nearly a year later.

Quintanar says the A-G’s office found the allegation credible and she is “appalled” that the probe was only acknowledged last week, with Khan allowed to resign.

For her part, James said in the statement she thanks “the women who came forward, and I want to assure them that they were heard and that I believe them.” She added that her office “treated this matter as aggressively as every other matter that has come before our office.”

Later Wednesday, she gave her first interview on the situation to NY-1 and went over the timeline:

“We take these allegations very seriously. And that's why we engaged in decisive and appropriate action. I was informed on October 2, which I believe was a Sunday, Sunday evening by a third party about these allegations, I immediately convened my executive staff, I informed my executive staff that we should limit the access of Ibrahim Kahn to the office. They did that the following day on Monday. I then directed them to hire an independent law firm to investigate these allegations. And that law firm did not include anyone who had previously worked in the office of the attorney general.”

Quintanar is a former press officer for James who left in 2021. According to the paper, a second woman in James’ office Quintanar confided in said Khan had also made unwanted advances against her.

A lawyer for Khan denied the claims.

“It's important that, you know, individuals understand and that we correct the record because there’s been a lot of misinformation out there. The investigation was concluded on December 2, Mr. Khan resigned on November 22. Normally, we do not comment on investigations, we do not want to compromise any investigations. And what we did in this particular case was appropriate, we took decisive action.”

Republicans in the state legislature say James, who won a second term in November, should be investigated herself over the matter. Similar calls are coming from former Cuomo administration officials, after James and Khan played key roles in the probe of then-Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2021. Facing multiple sexual harassment allegations, the Democratic governor resigned under pressure, and has since questioned James’ report and motivation.

Governor Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat, briefly answered a question about the situation Wednesday:

“I’m not going to conjecture on what’s on people’s minds and what their motivations are, I’m simply saying, the situation is not very clear, but it seems to me based on public reports, which is all I know, that steps were taken to investigate this and pursue this, and the person is no longer in the position they were once in,” she said.

On NY-1, James was asked about Khan’s statement that the investigation found no “workplace misconduct” and that he had planned to leave the office regardless.

“I think it's a play on words. The reality is, is that the allegations were substantiated, and Mr. Khan is no longer in the Office of the Attorney General.”

James, who before becoming AG was the New York City Public Advocate, says the situation is a personal letdown.

“I'm angry because he was my Chief of Staff for 10 years. I’m deeply disappointed in him, and there's no excuse for his behavior at all, none whatsoever. I believe these women, I believe their allegations. And it just, it angers me.”

The attorney general said she followed proper protocol and adds the incident does not impede her ability to prosecute corruption in state government. And she denied claims that she suppressed the story in the run-up to November’s elections.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.