The New York Attorney General’s office plans to hire a law firm to investigate accusations of sexual harassment against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who finds himself immersed in a growing controversy that intensified this weekend.
Mr. Cuomo, already facing backlash amid reports the state withheld accurate data on COVID-19 nursing home fatalities, now faces accusations from two former aides of inappropriate behavior.
The governor requested an independent review following a story published Saturday by The New York Times in which a 25-year-old former aide accused Mr. Cuomo of harassment. On Sunday, Attorney General Letitia James called for a referral from Mr. Cuomo to investigate the allegations in order for there to be “a truly independent investigation.” Later in the day, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat in his third term as governor, granted that referral.
“This is not a responsibility we take lightly,” Ms. James, also a Democrat, said in a statement. “We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation.”
State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said in a statement Monday that the “serious sexual harassment and misconduct accusations leveled against Gov. Cuomo are disturbing and we have already seen enough corroboration to warrant a thorough investigation.”
He added that he applauds the attorney general’s actions and he agrees “that an investigation must be conducted by an independent investigator who is beyond reproach.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, said Saturday the allegations against the governor “are serious” and an independent investigation “must be conducted to review all of the facts.”
The governor issued a pair of statements Sunday. In the second, he said he understands his interactions “may have been insensitive or too personal.” He acknowledged making statements that he said may have been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”
“To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” he said.
He added: “To be clear, I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”
In The New York Times story, the former aide, Charlotte Bennett, accused the governor of asking questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she ever had sex with older men. Last Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development official, published an essay accusing the governor of creating “a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”
She wrote that the governor kissed her on the lips in his New York City office. The governor denied Ms. Boylan’s accusations.
In Mr. Cuomo’s statement Sunday, he said he never intended to offend anyone and admitted to “being playful” and sometimes making jokes that he thinks are funny while at work.
“I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married,” he said. “I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has been an outspoken critic of the governor, said Mr. Cuomo is “unwilling to accept responsibility about anything and he’s not going to change now.”
“Andrew Cuomo the attorney general would use the full power of his voice and office to end Andrew Cuomo the governor,” Mr. Zeldin said.
The congressman, who Fox News has reported could be in the running for a future Republican gubernatorial nomination, never wavered in his support for President Trump, who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 26 women over the course of several decades, according to media reports.
The New York governor’s office has been home to its share of scandals. Eliot Spitzer, who was elected governor in 2006, resigned following a prostitution scandal in 2008. Gov. David Paterson succeeded Mr. Spitzer as governor but bowed out of the 2010 election as his support waned amid reports that state troopers from his security detail pressured a woman not to pursue assault charges against a senior aide to the governor, according to media reports at the time. Former attorney general Eric Schneiderman resigned from his position in 2018 after four women accused him of physical abuse.