Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has backed off from appointing a former federal judge to investigate claims of sexual harassment against him following reports that the judge had close ties to one of Cuomo’s closest allies.
The New York governor had announced Saturday that former federal judge Barbara S. Jones would investigate the harassment allegations from former Cuomo staffers Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett. Jones had worked with longtime Cuomo adviser Steven M. Cohen after she left her position as judge, according to the New York Times.
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.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 28, 2021
But amidst criticism over his choice, Cuomo announced Sunday that New York’s attorney general Letitia James and Judge Janet DiFiore, who sits on New York States highest court, would jointly choose who would investigate the allegations.
“The Governor’s Office wants a review of the sexual harassment claims made against the Governor to be done in a manner beyond reproach,” special counsel to the governor Beth Garvey 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,” Garvey continued. “The work product will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge.”
Garvey also said that all decisions concerning the investigation will be left up to the independent counsel selected by James and DiFiore.
The governor’s announcement followed a New York Times article in which Bennett accused Cuomo of asking her about her sex life, asking her whether she practiced monogamy, asking whether she was interested in older men, and discussing her own sexual assault experiences in an uncomfortable way with her. Bennett also said that Cuomo suggested he was open to dating women her age and that she believes he was grooming her.
The same week, Boylan accused the governor of kissing her without her consent during a one-on-one briefing, making her uncomfortable, and making a number of sexually charged comments to her.
The governor’s office has denied both women’s allegations.
Cuomo said in a statement that he thought he was acting as Bennett’s mentor and said that he “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett” and did not “ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
“This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press,” he said. “I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review, and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort.”
The governor’s office also said that Boylan’s “claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.”
Garvey said in a Saturday statement that Bennett’s concerns were “treated with sensitivity and respect.”
“The matter was promptly escalated to special counsel,” Garvey said. “Ms. Bennett received the transfer she requested to a position in which she had expressed a long-standing interest, and was thoroughly debriefed on the facts which did not include a claim of physical contact or inappropriate sexual conduct. She was consulted regarding the resolution, and expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the way in which it was handled.”
“The determination reached based on the information Ms Bennett provided was that no further action was required which was consistent with Ms Bennett’s wishes,” Garvey added.
Both Democratic lawmakers and Republican lawmakers have demanded that Cuomo resign from his position, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called for a “full and independent investigation” Thursday.
“The harassment experienced by these former staffers is part of a clear pattern of abuse and manipulation by the governor, and that pattern makes him unworthy of holding the highest office in New York,” Democratic State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi tweeted.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on CNN’s State of the Union that Biden supports an “independent” investigation into the allegations.
“It was hard to read that story, as a woman,” she said, according to the Times.